In the mid 1990s, Anton Newcombe and his band, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, were the darlings of the indie rock scene. Newcombe had a friend in Courtney Taylor, who headed his own band, The Dandy Warhols. "Dig!" (IMDb listing) chronicles this friendship over the last seven years, which deteriorated when the "Dandys" found a record deal and success, while the "BJM" began a downward spiral into the depths of heroin abuse, unfettered egotism, and violent in-fighting.
"Dig!" should be required viewing for anyone who wants to plummet into the viper's nest of rock stardom. Directed by Ondi Timoner, "Dig!" is a riveting look at the underground, passive-aggressive rivalry that exists between bands. Given extraordinary access to both bands with her DV camera, Timoner paints "Dig!" from the perspective of Taylor (who narrates the film) and the Dandys, who are portrayed as functional human beings playing their heart out at every opportunity, yet are unable to find success in their home country, regardless of the their major label status or ridiculous $400,000 music videos. Timoner, in her strangest move, does capture the Dandys taking drugs, performing topless, and reveling in their successes, but she doesn't indict them the way she does Newcombe. Of course, with Anton Newcombe, there just isn't enough time to capture all his psychosis. The Dandys are pretty much Lil' Orphan Annie compared to this guy.
A product of a broken home and a slave to control issues, Newcombe (who has denounced the film) is the central figure of "Dig!" An obsessive "musical genius" (the film is persistent in bringing this up), Newcombe is depicted as a damaged individual, wildly insistent on his own gifts to rock, and continuously berating anyone who gets in his way. "Dig!" is at its most fascinating when Newcombe is onscreen, for his vitriol toward anybody who isn't named Anton Newcombe is shocking, and Timoner includes numerous moments of Newcombe fighting with audience members or berating his own band (which itself is filled with oddities and, in the case of tambourine player Joel Gion, insufferable personalities). Newcombe eventually graduates from living in squalor, burdened by his own genius, to flat-out junkiedom, which ultimately decimates the BJM and begins Newcombe's obsession with tearing apart his relationship with Taylor. Newcombe is seen parodying song recordings and showing up to a musical showcase featuring the Dandys wearing an Elvis-ish jumpsuit, falling repeatedly on roller skates, and cursing the Dandy Warhol name. It's one-in-a-million material to behold.
For most of the film, "Dig!" allows the footage to speak for itself, weaving together a strange collection of rock cliches and painful relationship truths that can only be found in the music world. The picture touches on insane record company politics too, which glumly underscores the divergent journey of the two bands. "Dig!" is a mesmerizing portrayal of the madness called "rock star," and a gripping look into the souring of a friendship founded in ambition.
Filmfodder Grade: A-