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DiG! (2004)
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by Chris Parry

"It's Hoop Dreams in the music world."
4 stars

Fame and fortune has never really gone hand in hand with talent in the world of rock and roll. Elvis used the music of earlier blues singers to launch himself to stardom, the Beatles couldn't write a note when they kicked off their careers, and the Monkees were a creation of TV executives and marketing suits. Fast forward a handful of decades down the line and you find not much has changed; the next big musical star is as likely to be chosen as part of a reality TV show as they are from years of honing their art. Ondi Timoner began documenting two musical groups credited with having a ton of talent a little over seven years ago, hoping to catch their star on film as it began to rise. One of the groups, the Dandy Warhols, did just that, hooking into a record deal and making it big. The other group, The Brain Jonestown Massacre, descended into a drug-fuelled plunge into the fiery pits of musical hell. DiG! is their story.

As Ondi Timoner's documentary begins, the first question that may pop into your head is "what was all the fuss about?" DiG! has been lauded at Sundance, where it won the Grand Jury Documentary Prize, and had a huge buzz attached to it going into Austin's South By Southwest Film Festival, but the first half hour of this film really doesn't prepare you for the rolling car wreck that is to follow. Puffy and laudatory, it spends a long time telling you what musical gods its subjects are, leaving you thinking that what you're seeing was bought and paid for by the bands themselves.

But that's the tip of a very interesting iceberg, and anyone walking out of DiG! early would be missing one of the most spectacular incidents of self destruction ever witnessed by the documentarian's camera.

As much as both the Dandy Warhols and Brian Jonestown Massacre are groups, it's Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Anton Newcombe respectively that are the heart of both outfits. Courtney is a decent singer-songwriter with his eyes on the ultimate goal. He's not Dylan, but he's good and getting better, and as the lynchpin of his band, he's pretty good at keeping the troops contented and heading in the right direction. Though Courtney does most of the songwriting, he splits the song-writing royalties 50-50 with the band so that nobody is screaming for cash, and when his drummer begins to bitch that he wants more, Taylor-Taylor cuts him loose, explaining he doesn't need someone damaging the band for personal gain.

But the Dandy Warhols don't see themselves as masters of their art; rather they see the Brian Jonestown Massacre as being the kings of the field. The Massacre are respected by thousands for taking their music back to the 60's and creating sounds not heard for decades. They steer clear of gimmickry and play whatever the hell they want, putting out multiple albums a year on labels nobody has heard of, and playting show after show, no matter how small the crowd.

But while the Massacre have the advantage of the inspired musical talent of their lead, Anton Newcombe, (who claims he can play 80 instruments) they're also stuck with his lack of leadership, absolute god complex, and penchant for mind-altering substances. The Massacre is full of chiefs, and has not one indian. And to make matters worse, the big chief of the outfit is bent on self-destruction at every turn.

When the Massacre put on an industry showcase, Newcombe starts beating one of his band members for playing a wrong note. The show degenerates into a brawl, with several members quitting - which is not a rare occurence for this band. Later, when they get a sniff of a record deal, Anton again jumps in to his auto-destruct mode, destroying the deal before it even had a chance to kick in.

Amidst this, he begins to stalk the Dandy Warhols, ruining his friendship with the band by sending them bullets with their names on them, and writing entire albums of music ridiculing them for selling out.

Through the entire film, the one member of either group who seems to understand what is going on around them is Joel Gion, tambourine player for the Massacre, who never fails to burst through the bullshit with a pithy remark or witty observation. It's somewhat ironic that the one guy who might have been able to keep the Massacre together was also the one guy who is least likely to hook up with another band. After all, who needs a tambourine player in this day and age?

DiG! is a must-see for anyone interested in the music scene, anyone not interested in the music scene, and anyone in the music scene. It's a slow-rolling train wreck that runs seven years before stopping, proving the fact that talent is but one small aspect of what it takes to be a success in the recording industry. Another would be common sense.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8919&reviewer=1
originally posted: 03/19/04 15:02:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2004 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 CineVegas Film Festival. For more in the 2004 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 San Francisco Film Festival. For more in the 2004 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Vancouver Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/28/06 bee I am totally&absolutely in love with joel gion-seenBJM live amazing stuff,joels an iconbaby 5 stars
11/10/05 zeitgeist Terrible bands, great documentary. There's something to be said for that. 4 stars
10/26/05 Psychedelic man Brilliant piece and fucked up crazy 5 stars
11/10/04 Tripp Southern Excellent movie. 5 stars
10/15/04 Tarte Loved It!! 5 stars
10/04/04 soleil eve Blast! These guys are a trip! 5 stars
10/02/04 armando rodriguez it's real. it's hysterical! 5 stars
7/09/04 Masacre Fan The greates music doc. since The Song Remains The Same! 5 stars
6/23/04 Candy Machine stroke of (mad) genius 5 stars
4/26/04 Jessica Pratt I'm madly in love with Joel Gion! 5 stars
4/25/04 stenobabe intriguing, sad 4 stars
4/04/04 John A. Nesbit One of the better docs from Sundance 2004 4 stars
3/29/04 Megan Casey Awesome... great music. 5 stars
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  01-Oct-2004 (R)
  DVD: 12-Apr-2005



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