Good comments on Dig!

October 18, 2016 § Leave a comment


“Fast and louche” Chris Roberts, The Guardian 25/06/05

Anton Newcombe, hot-headed heartbeat of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, swans through a door, intent on making a grand rock-god exit. On roller-skates. What he wants to do is swagger. What he does is stagger, tumbling flat on his ass on the kerb. “I am the son of God,” he declares, another time, “tell them to wear white and come when I call.” Enthused by this concept, he pawns his guitar to fund a photo shoot, complete with disciples, that same day. A genuinely puzzled passer-by asks, “Are you guys members of a cult, or just shooting a video?” When arrested onstage for kicking an audience member in the head, Anton yells to camera, “They’re gonna kill me. And this is a wonderful day to die!” His manager, the last word in long-suffering, sighs, “I walked into a MASH unit.”

Meanwhile, Anton’s Portland, Oregon, home-town friends-turned-rivals, the Dandy Warhols, sign sensible deals and score sizeable hits. They’re “the most well-adjusted band in America”, and borrow the BJM’s cooler, sleazier crash-pad for their own photo shoots. Even when busted for dope on their tour bus in France, they’re let off in exchange for four T-shirts. “We’re a lucky band,” says the guitarist, “and they are not a lucky band.” “We even kept the cannabis,” adds singer Courtney Taylor’s voiceover.

Ondi Timoner’s hilarious, tragic, absurdly realistic seven-year labour of love and fear…makes Spinal Tap seem subdued and is by far the most engaging and insightful of the recent wave of rockumentaries. Timoner whittled it down from 2,000 hours of footage, finishing it, in tears, after two all-night editing sessions three days before her first son was born. “I didn’t mean to suggest that the Dandys are sell-outs, or that Anton’s a hero. I allowed it to speak for itself.”

[Anton] Newcombe, with his high IQ and quick wits, believes in his own genius: he’s charismatic, loopy, spontaneous, bossy. He’s fascinated by Jesus, Hitler and Charles Manson. His father, an alcoholic schizophrenic, committed suicide during filming. Anton self-destructs at every opportunity. By contrast, the Dandy Warhols who, to an extent, cop his riffs and attitude, have an eye for the main chance. They love everything Anton stands (or keels over) for, but flog a kind of pre-watershed version, playing along with the record company’s big-budget video designs and touring doggedly. They’re also better-looking, and use their intimidating cool to subvert rather than subside. The movie makes Anton look crazy and Courtney look calculating. Yet it’s so weighted in the former’s favour that it’s a miracle Timoner persuaded the latter to narrate the arch voiceover (“It was so retro. And so the future.”).

“When I first met the Dandys I thought they were magic treasure, like wood elves who’d crept out of the forest or something. But they saw BJM living the rock’n’roll life the way they’d always pictured it from reading Stones biographies. The difference being that their 60s icons were famous first, then did a lot of drugs. So these Portland guys all become caricatures. I think the film debunks the rock’n’roll mystique. I’d be travelling with the bands and it’d be horrific, a vacuum of humanity,” Timoner shudders.

Dig! isn’t just a howlingly funny documentary including the immortal cry, “You broke my sitar, motherfucker!” It’s a painfully perceptive film about neurosis, egomania and the clash between common sense and uncommon self-love in any would-be rock star’s head. Its volume reaches up to 11, but it digs deep.

“I am not a movie!” Sylvie Simmons, The Guardian 10/06/05

The simplistic interpretation would be that one band is about art while the other has sold out. But what it really points out is that the music business, at least in its current setup, will screw musicians one way or another: by involvement, or neglect, or both. And that these two charismatic, driven frontmen – one presented as grounded and realistic, the other as a mad genius and egotistical jerk – are remarkably alike. In fact, in some shots they look almost interchangeable.

Asked what he thought of, or if he recognised, the Anton shown on screen, he says: “Well I didn’t see the same film that you’ve seen. I’ve never bothered to watch it. What insight did you gain from watching an edit of a film that’s a sub-edit? I am not a fucking film. You saw some things that have been publicly exhaled. So what? That’s just one small aspect of a personality. One fucking fingernail in a pantheon of a fist. I am not a curiosity. I am really intelligent and I can prove it. I was tested in kindergarten with a 180 IQ and I know that I’m a lot smarter than that, and most of the time I have to basically be focused so that other people can understand what it is that I’m trying to say. It’s not my egocentric view. I have ideas. Good ones, too. I am not a movie, for better or for worse. But I have very real opinions about it, specifically including where I’ve been done wrong. I’m not afraid of the fucking truth. The fact is this is not the truth.”

Meaning? “Look at the box. It says ‘written by Ondi’. How do you write a documentary? You don’t. I’m not taking issue with any particular pixel or frame or sequence, but taken out of context, I can cut your words with this tape and make you say anything I want to say. It’s just lies – lies that were written into the narration. Courtney read a script. They were not his words. It’s fascinating. Do you know what Courtney thinks? Shall I speak for Courtney? ‘This is a life mistake.’ As if we just hopped into a U-boat and sunk a cruise liner, you know? He said, ‘You know how it all began and we’d all be friends for ever? This wrecked my life, but who cares?’ But I think these people will nada their nadas to nada until there’s nada. It’s strictly biological – they will destroy themselves.”

One of the many bones of contention Newcombe has with Dig! is that, with all its talk of him being a “musical genius” (or, as Courtney Taylor puts it, “brilliant monster”), there’s little besides some shambolic live footage to show that the 37-year-old is anything other than seriously disturbed. But his band, since its formation 15 years ago, has recorded 15 albums. This year alone BJM will release an album, an EP and a two-CD retrospective, as well as any number of internet downloads.

He plays me a few new songs; they’re good. Never Become Emotionally Attached to Man, Woman, Beast or Child, is hypnotic, jangly, the Beatles via the Byrds; Seer is like a psychedelic Phil Spector. Newcombe repeats himself, more quietly this time. “I am not a fucking film. I’m alive. I’m complete.”


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