What's scary about Dig! is that it's real.
Even the most seasoned novelist or screenwriter couldn't dream up the characters featured in Ondi Timoner's documentary. It's a film about the hardworking, devoted bands that fill the hopeless, middle road of the American musical highway system. These are the bands that either ascend toward stardom or fall into oblivion.
Timoner's lens tracked two of those kinds of bands, the Dandy Warhols (of Portland, Ore.) and the Brian Jonestown Massacre (from Los Angeles), for seven years. Both are two-bit indie rock bands. Both love and hate each other. Both are perfect subjects.
Timoner watches the Warhols get their break -- a deal with Capitol Records - and everything seems headed upwards toward fame. At the same time, the Massacre is imploding. And it's in Massacre leader Anton Newcombe, that Dig! truly shines. He's first seen as a music-obsessed, generally good-natured guy. But he's a tortured-artist type who slowly transforms himself into a schizophrenia-fueled junkie with a guitar. During concerts, he punches his band mates, cycles through 40-some members, kicks fans in the face and turns his mid-level band into an out-of-control, musical cult.
What unfolds is a well-researched, crystal-clear portrait of the life of two representative American bands. On one side, there are the too-cool-for-school egos of the Warhols, ready to change their sound and hairstyles as fast as they can just to see their 15 minutes go a few seconds longer. On the other side, the Massacre rejects everything - record deals, fans, members and even their longtime confidantes, the Dandy Warhols. Newcombe constantly reassures himself that the haze that is his life is simply a "full-scale musical revolution." When things go right for the Warhols, the Massacre hits the self-destruct button.
Like a good documentarian, Timoner does her homework. Special features check in with the stars of the film - all except for the notorious Newcombe. Three commentaries -- one by each band and one by Timoner -- provide more perspective. In the end, this is not Spinal Tap; these people are real. Just on its own, that's both hilarious and scary.
Publication date: 05/26/05