This is a tale of two bands.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre*, from California, are exactly what you would expect from the name. For the last decade they have been churning out (at the rate of about three albums a year) some above average psyche rock. Depending on your position they (or more importantly mainman Anton Newcombe) are genius or pointless retro Pebbles copyists. BJM (or more importantly mainman Anton Newcombe) are an object lesson in what could be seen as indie integrity (or, again depending on your position, pigheaded preciousness and pretension) – with a liberal sprinkling of unpredictability and volatile personality.

Equally pun-painfully named The Dandy Warhols, from Portland, Oregon, are a record label’s wet dream. A grab bag of cool types with model looks. They make pseudo-cool rock that they probably maintain is in the same ‘urban’ story-telling mould as Lou Reed or someone. Ultimately, they are really just pleasant enough singalong toe-tappers. They (at least at the time this film supposedly covers) are a great disappointment to major label Capitol Records having failed to really make any impression on the US market. However, in Europe, one of their tracks has been used in a mobile phone advert and subsequently (along with seemingly interminable MTV2 wall-to-walling) they are HUGE.

Documentary Dig! is the story of both bands. Originally intended as a film about various bands and how they operate having to sell their art to big business, when director Ondi Timoner met with BJM (or more importantly mainman Anton Newcombe) she knew she’d hit the motherload. The man is nothing if not charismatic. So many people are convinced of his legendary genius, but none moreso than himself. He introduces her to the DWs and tells her they are going to cause a revolution. The film follows their careers over the period from 1990 to 1997 (allegedly, more of which later).

And, thoroughly enjoyable it is too. If a tad long (just under two hours), basically, the BJM (or more importantly mainman Anton Newcombe) just provided too much material. Why trim the flab when you can have more footage of a rock ‘n’ roll junkie falling about the streets of New York on rollerblades, or kicking the head of a heckler at a gig? They could’ve cut out all the DWs stuff and probably still had a decent enough doc. Although, who would be interested in distributing that?

Who indeed. The film is ‘narrated’ by DWs’ Courtney Taylor, supposedly without having seen any of the footage beforehand to keep it pure or somesuch shit. Aye right. He might not have, but definitely the record label’s been all over it. Unlike the rough and ready live footage of BJM, anytime the Warhols are shown, the sound is dubbed from their records. They are interviewed retrospectively about the others whereas all BJM footage is from the period we are led to believe the movie covers. (A point that Newcombe is deeply unhappy about.) Of course, despite their efforts, they still manage to come across a a bunch of jumped up assholes. (And, particularly despicable in their empty posturing- look to their appropriation of BJMs lifestyle for to satisfy their own self-mythologising ends. eg. turning up at their home post-party, which they didn’t attend, for a photoshoot.) At least BJM (or more importantly mainman Anton Newcombe) seem genuine about what their doing, although they seem like jerks too. You get the feeling that they would keep going (and, have done) preferably without the huge contract, churning out their stuff frequently and on their own. But, you know, that had Taylor not got signed (and succeeded) he’d be playing villains in Keanu Reeves films these days.

* “Keep Music Evil”?!?!? WTF? What a great strapline. Why hasn’t someone else thought of that before?


Written by Tony Kiernan

10 July 2005 at 11:04 am

Posted in Film

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