Tumbling onto the screen with enough anarchic honesty to out Metallica: Some Kind of Monster as a self-serving snow job, the captivating DiG! rubs our noses in the illicit behavior that other "warts-and-all" music documentaries instinctively suppress. Apparently unperturbed that the details of their longstanding friendly rivalry are being captured by an unforgiving camera, the members of brother bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols snort coke, diss their record labels and (in the case of BJM) get into vicious physical fights not only with the insult- and projectile-hurling provocateurs in their audiences, but amongst themselves as well.
The frequency with which BJM frontman Anton Newcombe berates his own backing musicians unto fisticuffs is one of the best running gags in this frequently jaw-dropping doc, which exposes rock for the hilarious and harrowing undertaking it is. Filmmaker Ondi Timoner, though, doesn't rest on any voyeuristic laurels, fashioning her enviable storehouse of fly-on-the-wall footage into an instructive "compare and contrast" essay starring The Little Band That Could (the Dandies) and The Little Band That Might Have If They Weren't So Fucking Crazy (BJM).
Followed down a long, seven-year corridor of boozy camaraderie and bitchy one-upmanship, the movie's co-headlining acts serve as exemplars of the contradictory impulses that rock must maintain in order to survive. Outwardly, both groups share a goal to take music into the future via the careful application of '60s-retro flourishes. But their methods of going about it are as different as night and day (or at least night and late dawn). The Dandies are careerists, mindful of their artistic muse but willing to play the corporate game and downplay their internal disputes to preserve their longevity. Their biggest rebellion is to disassociate themselves from a $400,000 video shoot for making them look too slick. Meanwhile, the influential but haphazard BJM has to content itself with smaller victories, like playing to 10 people in as many hours at a Communist Party headquarters.
Through uproarious concert sequences and frank interviews with a host of the musicians' associates, Timoner assembles a picture of BJM as an outfit that's both dependent upon and stunted by Newcombe's antisocial genius. His control-freak devotion to the underground aesthetic and, it's suggested, a crippling fear of success continually thwart his intention to effect "a full-scale revolution." (From behind the camera, Timoner asks if his is a five-step plan a sly allusion to The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle that Newcombe obviously misses.) It's doesn't help that BJM appears to have at least one junkie in its ever-shifting ranks at all times. Any viewer who's had to put up with an addict's self-defeating pretzel logic will thus understand BJM's waxing of such buddy-stabbing broadsides as "Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth."
Visually, Timoner interprets the story as a collage of images and picture formats that perfectly suits the bands' influence-rich music. (Newcombe in particular is depicted as savant type who's as adept with multiple unconventional instruments as was his band's late namesake.) And if you're having trouble discerning which combo will be on its feet and thriving by the film's end, note that head Dandy Courtney Taylor is supplying its narration. Rock history, like any other chronological account, is told by the winners.
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