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DiG!
Directed by Ondi Timoner

Starring: Dandy Warhols, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Anton Newcombe, Courtney Taylor
Script: Ondi Timoner
Running Time: 1:47
Country: USA
Year: 2005
Official Site: DiG!
DiG! follows the trajectories of two bands whose friendship and mutual admiration will turn to rivalry as both fail to meet the music industry's high expectations.

The Dandy Warhols are the most sophisticated and glamourous, delivering a highly melodic electro-glam-pop and officiating as poster boys for an electronic psychedelia fueled by massive drug absorption—think of a poor man's Primal Scream. On the other hand, The Brian Jonestown Massacre is rock'n roll in a more traditional sense, mixing 70's sounds and abrasive guitars with a bad boy reputation—somewhere between the Rolling Stones and The Jesus & Mary Chain.

Both bands were linked by the friendship between their 2 leaders, Courtney Taylor & Anton Newcombe and, at the beginning of the documentary, we see them supporting each other, collaborating with each another, blending both groups into the same entity. But in typical showbiz fashion, they get torn apart, as the sudden rise of the Warhols inflates Taylor's ego while Newcombe becomes anti-social, slowly losing his sanity (some highlights include Jonestown Massacre's notorious fights on stage, more particularly a fatal self-destructive stint in front of music executives in LA.)

DiG! is undoubtedly highly entertaining, amusing and should captivate fans of the bands as well as rock star wannabes trying to make it big in this business. I must however admit that, despite getting a lot of critical praise, there are several issues associated with this documentary, which cannot be ignored if you make the effort to distance yourself from you own musical inclination in order to approach it with a more objective angle.

While the styles of music played by both bands certainly match my personal taste—a guitarist of the Jonestown Massacre even went on to form one of my favorite post-noisy rock bands, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club—I'm not sure that these groups may appeal to an audience beyond the limits of their respective genres, especially as they are not very well known, even among music fans.

More problematic is the director/screenwriter Ondi Timoner's failure to help us understand what's so special about the Dandy Warhols & Brian Jonestown Massacre to have chosen them as the subject of a documentary. Several times, Newcombe is referred to as a genius, but from what you hear from the various performances of his band, this is nothing more than a revivalist act. If indeed Newcombe is a musical prodigy, Timoner should have provided us with a proof, which would have also given legitimacy to her work.

Another aspect of the film is its thematic approach, as a show-business rise & fall. While building on this premise, DiG! Lacks a real sense of drama, as none of the bands really take off—at least commercially—in the first place; and with no abrupt fall, there is no climax. In addition, the film's impact is weakened if you happened to have seen Overnight, a ferocious documentary officiating as the ultimate Hollywood rise & fall tale (both screened at the LA film festival last year.)

One cool extra on the DVD is "Where are they now", which shows the paths taken by the members of the bands since this documentary brought them fame. While the Dandy Warhols-redux are working on a new album, The Brian Jonestown Massacre seems to have disbanded, their singer/tambourine-man even working at an Amoeba music store—(the one on Haight-Ashbury, not my favorite haunt on Sunset). However after checking the program of the 2005 edition of Lollapalooza in Chicago, I must assume that Newcombe has resurrected his band since Jonestown Massacre is scheduled to play.

While DiG! partly failed, according to rigid documentarial standards, it certainly succeeds in reaching the music lover in me as it made me want to buy CDs from the respective bands—and this is certainly a victory at that level.

  Fred Thom

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