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Palm Pictures presents
Dig! (2004)

"I sneeze and hits come out."
- Courtney Taylor (singer, Dandy Warhols)

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: April 12, 2005

Stars: Anton Newcombe, Courtney Taylor, Joel Gion, Matt Hollywood, Peter Holmstrom, Zia McCabe
Other Stars: Brent DeBoer, Eric Hedford, Dean Taylor, Peter Hayes
Director: Ondi Timoner

MPAA Rating: R for language and drug use
Run Time: 01h:46m:53s
Release Date: April 12, 2005
UPC: 660200310424
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AB+A- A

DVD Review

After years of toiling away in near obscurity, the self-proclaimed "genius" Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre receives a chance to showcase his talents in front of record label executives at the Viper Room. This band known for its killer live shows appears primed to make a run at success. But does Anton really want to make it big? Would even modest popularity ruin his indie credibility? These questions resound strongly during a performance that torpedoes their chances for a record deal. Anton argues with the band members and the crowd, rants about major labels, and starts a nasty fight. This destructive behavior is extremely difficult to watch, but it also leads to one of the most intriguing music documentaries in recent years.

Dig! chronicles seven years in the lives of two disparate rock bands trying to achieve their own definitions of success. For readers who are not professional rockologists, here is some brief history about the two bands portrayed in this film. Forming in Portland in 1994, the Dandy Warhols include singer/guitarist Courtney Taylor, keyboardist Zia McCabe, guitarist Peter Holmstrom, and drummer Eric Hedford. Strongly influenced by the Velvet Underground, they drew considerable acclaim in Europe but never really grabbed significant popularity in the United States. They did enjoy some radio airplay from the 2000 single Bohemian Like You, which employed a catchy tune that grabbed the kids' attention. Their latest release was Plan a Seven Tales for Urban Australia, which appeared in 2003.

San Francisco's Brian Jonestown Massacre formed in 1990 and has shuffled through more than 40 band members during its existence. The central figure throughout the years has been the singer/guitarist Anton Newcombe, whose grating presence has alienated many during the group's career. Other key members included bassist Matt Hollywood, guitarists Dean Taylor and Peter Hayes (now in Black Rebel Motorcycle Club), and Joel Gion—the oddball "Spokesman for the Revolution." They developed a significant underground following in the '90s and signed with TVT Records in 1997, though commercial success did not occur. Noteworthy releases include 1996's Take It From the Man and its follow-up Give It Back, which appeared the subsequent year.

The story occurs mainly in 1996 and 1997, when the Dandys and the BJM were aligned in Anton's "musical revolution," though his primary target is never really clear. He possesses the remarkable ability to complete an entire album within a week, and the result is impressive. However, he spends much of his time terrorizing his fellow band members both on and offstage, which does not create a healthy situation. A catalyst in this behavior is undoubtedly drugs and alcohol, which dominate the lives of both bands. The young groups have plenty of fun and party incessantly, but the side effects are especially destructive. During one drunken brawl, Anton leaves a nasty bite mark under the arm of bandmate Matt Hollywood, and this is definitely not the only violent incident.

Traveling in a much different direction are the Dandy Warhols, labeled by Courtney as the "most well-adjusted band in the music business." The foursome spends considerable time on the drug scene, but they also are gaining momentum on the business side. They sign with Capitol Records and expect to make it big, but a lack of "hits" causes the label to reject their record. They also appear in a ridiculous video for the single Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth, with a tab of more than $300,000. It's intriguing to watch the Dandys move away from the underground and into the corporate music world. Their more responsible financial outlook is understandable, but they also begin to develop a pretentious side. One scene where they arrive unannounced for a photo shoot at the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s house is especially harrowing. The Dandys seem like nicer people, but they also feel contrived and are trying a bit too hard to be rock stars.

Narrated by Courtney Taylor, this story does employ a slight bias towards the Dandy Warhols that might overwhelm a lesser director. Ondi Timoner does seem focused on presenting Anton's worst aspects and praising Courtney, but she does convey enough material to catch glimpses of both guy's true natures. Especially compelling is the personal relationship between the two frontmen, who both desire elements of the other guy. Anton wears his independence on his sleeve, but beneath it all he does crave more interest from fans. On the other side, Courtney has gained significant popularity, but has lost his comrade’s underground appeal. This love/hate relationship drives the story and leads to more than the typical music documentary.

Dig! is the type of riveting film that should attract viewers unfamiliar with the bands depicted. My experience with the Dandy Warhols and Brian Jonestown Massacre was very limited prior to this viewing, and I still found their stories fascinating. One unfortunate element of this release that it lacks a detailed response from Anton regarding its content. He did release a statement on his website condemning the film and its misrepresentation of him, and his refusal to participate is entirely understandable, but his opinion would have been welcome. In this story, Anton comes across as a crazy, over-the-top musician with plenty of talent, but the inability to pull everything together to achieve considerable success.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Similar to many documentaries, Dig! offers a full-frame transfer and presents video footage of varying quality. In general, the colors shine brightly from the screen and help to present the story in entertaining fashion. Certain black-and-white concert footage is pretty grainy, but this issue almost certainly stems from the low quality of the initial print. The overall quality is solid, which leads to an effective presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: This documentary includes numerous songs from both the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, which greatly increases the need for a top-notch audio transfer. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital track presents the live performances and backround songs effectively and with significant power. The considerable arguments between band members and other dialogue work clearly and effectively. This isn't an extremely complex track and could use the rear speakers a little better. But the tunes generally rock and help to create an impressive listening experience.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Reconstruction, The Nomi Song, Freestyle, Tom Dowd and the Language of Music
15 Deleted Scenes
10 Featurette(s)
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Dandy Warhols, The Filmmakers
Packaging: generic plastic two-disc keepc
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Link-outs: Dig Into the Scenes
  2. Six Performances/Music Videos
Extras Review: Dig! is the type of film that warrants considerable extras, and this two-disc release overwhelms even my high expectations. The second disc benefits from the "Play All" feature, which keeps you from having to scroll through each bonus scene. The following text describe each major section covering both discs:

Commentaries
This release includes three commentaries that present the viewpoints of the three major players in the film: The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Dandy Warhols, and the filmmakers Ondi and David Timoner. The most entertaining track comes from five former members of the BJM, with Joel Gion providing the best comments. It's intriguing to hear their version of the film's events and to learn the back story of many key scenes. It is not a surprise that Anton does not appear on this track, but it does slightly lessen the effect. The Dandy's commentary is still worthwhile, but their laid-back style makes it less interesting than the BJM conversation. They also leave some silent breaks during the movie. Ondi and David Timoner provide a nice contrast to the bands' tracks and discuss the difficulties in the filming and editing process. In terms of learning information about the actual production, this commentary provides the best material.

Bonus Footage
This section offers 48 minutes of bonus footage that should provide great enjoyment to fans who can't get enough of Anton, Joel, and company. One highlight/lowlight is an eight-minute segment at the Dollhut which stands as the last time the Dandys and BJM played together. Anton nearly gets into a fistfight with the other band's manager in the very cramped bar for an inexplicable reason. Another noteworthy scene involves the Dandys' jaunt through London and attempts to downplay their sex and drugs image. Sub-sections within this area are "Joel's Corner," which presents three silly moments with the BJM's oddest figure, and "Ondi's Moments," which offers a brief glimpse at the young director during the filming.

Where Are They Now?
It's fascinating to learn the present-day situation of many of the film's key figures, and this 27-minute section fails to disappoint. Matt Hollywood is now playing with his band the Out Crowd and working at a bar, while Eric Hedford has a new group called Telephone. Joel Gion appears to have morphed into a relatively normal adult and actually has own apartment. The lengthiest segment involves the Dandy Warhols, who continue to make records but appear more split by their own lives. The most significant change occurs with Zia, who is married with a one-month-old baby. Another notable segment involves the reunion of the old BJM members, with Anton being the obvious exception. We also watch them recording some key moments in the commentary, which offers an entertaining scene.

After the Release
This collection of brief interviews following the film's release run for about 17 minutes and offer differing opinions. Ondi Timoner provides an eight-minute interview that gives a quick overview and also shows her breastfeeding. This area also includes the Grand Jury award presentation at Sundance.

Music Videos/Performances
Although the film includes numerous songs from both bands, each song's individual success isn't always evident when viewed in the story's context. This area includes three Dandy Wahols' videos that vary considerably in tone and style. Last High is an unintentionally silly video that doesn't work, while TV Theme Song takes the lo-fi approach and succeeds. Bohemian Like You is their big hit, and the video provides a fun, energetic viewing. This section also includes three BJM performances, which offer both sloppy and rockin' moments.

Other Extras
The most significant remaining extra is the inclusion of Link-outs, which enhance the film by offering extra footage that correlates to the specific scene presented. A "Dig!" icon appears on the bottom right corner of the screen when this option occurs. Preview trailers for Dig!, Reconstruction, The Nomi Song, Freestyle, and Tom Dowd & the Language of Music also appear on this disc. Additional supplements include web links and several pages of credits.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

I recently viewed Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns, a music documentary that chronicles the career of They Might Be Giants—two nice guys who seem very down to earth. Dig! rests on the opposite end of the spectrum from that picture, as it portrays pretentious rockers who display self-destructive behavior on an almost constant basis. The struggles and conflicts of the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols help to generate fascinating drama. This film stands as one of the best music documentaries in recent memory.

 


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