Houston Calling

Dig! the DVDs

February 12th, 2005 · No Comments

Here’s hoping you have seen this movie. If not, the DVD set of Dig!, featuring The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols, will be released in April via Palm Pictures (home to Earlimart and one Local H album, so that’s good). Even if you haven’t heard either band’s music or if you not a fan you should watch the film. It’s an interesting documentary on the struggles musicians encounter while trying to make a name for themselves.


“Until they can write the letter that I am writing, they are the postman and I am the letter writer. Period. End of discussion.”
— Anton Newcombe, The Brian Jonestown Massacre [about record labels]

“I’ve never seen them eat. All I’ve seen them do is, like, drink liquor and snort drugs. That’s all they do.”
— Courtney Taylor, The Dandy Warhols [about The Brian Jonestown Massacre]

Fans describe them as both the band you love to hate and the band you hate to love. Critics describe them as drug-addled geniuses. With a retro sound, The Brian Jonestown Massacre put their own spin on the British and American music of the Sixties, and hoped to spark an underground revolution in the Los Angeles music scene in the mid-Nineties. Led by Anton Newcombe, a seemingly tortured poetic soul, the band garnered critical praise and earned a dedicated fanbase on its own.

The band’s counterpart in the supposed revolution was Portland’s The Dandy Warhols. Despite the bands’ similarities in the early stages of their careers, it was the Warhols, led by the boisterous Courtney Taylor, who ultimately became more successful in terms of mainstream, major label success.

Filmmaker Ondi Timoner followed the bands for seven years (filming 1500 hours of footage in the process), and the resulting movie, Dig!, was released to critical acclaim and ultimately won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival 2004. The double-DVD set of Dig! includes the documentary film, trailers, and hours of additional material that includes deleted scenes, commentary from the director and band members, interviews, and “where are they now?” updates. The film is presented in 5.1 surround sound, and the first DVD allows the viewer to watch the deleted scenes in the context of the film.

Also included are music videos and live footage, including The Dandy Warhols’ “Last High,” “TV Theme Song,” and “Bohemian Like You,” the BJM’s “Oh Lord” and “Jesus” performed at CBGB’s and “Anemone” at Electric Lounge in Austin. There is also a jam session with Newcombe and Taylor. These features alone are worth the cost of the DVD set.

An interviewee in the movie mentions that 85- to 90 percent of records never recoup — meaning the labels lose money on those records. Due to the studio costs, promotion, tour costs, etc., most bands never see any money from the music they make for the media conglomerates. After The Dandy Warhols signed to Capitol Records, the label promptly rejected the first album the band submitted. Lucky for them, Capitol accepted the band’s second album, and paid for the band to shoot a video for Taylor’s ode to Newcombe’s herion use, “Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth.”

With a name as clever as The Brian Jonestown Massacre, everyone felt it was inevitable the band would sign a major-label deal. At a showcase at the Viper Room, the band melted down onstage in a now-infamous brawl between Newcombe and several of his bandmates. Watching it on film shows Newcombe and company as self-absorbed brats whose own self-destructive tendencies continually prevent the band from capturing the level of success of their peers (regardless of how talented they are).

Notably absent from this set’s commentary is Newcombe himself. The musician has denounced the film on his website and in the press, claiming footage used in the end result of the film misrepresented actual events. On The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s website, Newcombe writes, “Several years of our hard work was reduced at best to a series of punch-ups and mishaps taken out of context, and at worst bold faced lies and misrepresentation of fact.”

“A perfect example is footage shown of me getting arrested in Georgia. The narration and editing suggest that I am being arrested for drug possession. It was actually [filmmaker] Ondi who was arrested for possession, and rightly so, as the drugs were hers. I happened to have an expired license.”

He continues, “Another odd editing choice is that the footage concerning myself and the BJM in the film stops in 1997, while the Dandy’s footage goes through 2003. This leads the viewer to believe that I fell off the earth in a drugged-out downward spiral of insanity. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I quit heroin over 5 years ago, thank God, and have been more productive than ever making albums and touring all over the world.”

Facts like this detract from the brilliance of the film, but not the film’s entertainment quotient. Viewers can judge for themselves, but it should be noted that both bands continue to make albums. In typical indie fashion, The Brian Jonestown Massacre is able to release more material than The Dandy Warhols (still on the major label teat).

Throughout Dig!, Taylor (also oddly the narrator of the film) seems to value style over substance, which ultimately comes through in the band’s more recent efforts (their last album was co-produced by Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran). If one thing can be said about Newcombe, it is that without his influence The Dandy Warhols would have never been able to pen half the songs they have over the years.

Regardless, Dig! is an incredible film that documents the ups and downs of musicians trying to make it in the music business on their own terms. This DVD set is a must-see for any music fan or musician thinking of forming a band.

You can find The Dandy Warhols’ website here. The Brian Jonestown Massacre can be found here. You’ll be doing yourself a favor by purchasing music from both bands.

Now Playing in My iPod: The Brian Jonestown Massacre — Tepid Peppermint Wonderland: A Retrospective

Tags: Music