On the surface, "Dig!" is just a documentary about two indie bands from Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco — the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre — that have never come close to having a platinum album (or even a gold one, for that matter).
But the film, opening in select cities this Friday (October 1), is also a fascinating look at friendship, drug abuse, mad genius and general rock and roll depravity. Director Ondi Timoner captured lightning in a bottle when she decided to follow the Dandies and the BJM, two bands that started out as compatriots but, through a series of bizarre confrontations and jealousies, became enemies.
In "Dig!," BJM frontman Anton Newcombe comes across as a drug-addled lunatic (which might explain why he hates the film so much), and Dandy Warhols singer Courtney Taylor is seen as pompous and vain (which might explain why he hasn't seen the whole thing, despite narrating it). But along with Timoner, they've agreed to discuss the seven years the film took to make, the rivalry between the two bands, drugs, insanity and shotgun shells.
Ondi Timoner: "I lived with the BJM, and I have footage of myself on the verge of tears because they were such vacuums of humanity. They would never take responsibility for the way they behaved to each other. They would just get more ornery as the drinks set in."
Anton Newcombe: "There was definitely a point she was trying to make with the editing of the film. I don't approve of her whole thing. I think it's sensationalistic and dumb. Like, 'Oh, yes, he's incredibly violent! He's terribly crazy!' It’s like an episode of 'The Jerry Springer Show.' "
Courtney Taylor: "I haven't seen [the film]. Anton hates it. He doesn't want to see videotape of him just being an awful person. I'm sure he doesn't want to know about that. He should not have seen the film either."
One of the focal points of "Dig!" is the feud that developed between the two bands. Depending on whom you ask, it was either an elaborate ploy, a creepy plan or a very real problem.
Newcombe: "I wanted to spark some sh-- up between our bands. So my friend and I sent the Dandies shotgun shells with their names written on them. And their management was like, 'We're going to have them arrested!' I thought it was funny. I didn't have a problem with them. I tried to manipulate the media and give them something to write about."
Taylor: "I guess we never felt much about it one way or the other. It never really existed for us. And then they got weird, and there's nothing you can say about that kind of behavior. You can't just say, 'Oh, just kidding!' or whatever. As soon as somebody gets weird, you just move yourself away from them."
Timoner: "The Dandies wouldn't let the BJM around them for many years. There was a restraining order. And Anton expressed real, honest anger and jealousy against the Dandy Warhols because he had this whole machination in his mind that they were going to have a musical revolution together. And as far as he was concerned, the Dandies betrayed those ideals, sold out. And he was pissed."
In 1997, the Dandies released their Capitol Records debut, The Dandy Warhols Come Down, while Anton and the BJM released a string of indie albums and hit the road. From there, the two bands would take wildly divergent paths, as the Dandies toured Europe while Anton became ensnared by drugs, starting with a drug bust down in Georgia.
Newcombe: "We had to go pick up a tour van I purchased, and Ondi said, 'You can drive my car, and I can interview you on the way.' There was a police checkpoint, and we got stopped. They asked me if they could search the car, and I said, 'No problem.' And they searched it and found Ondi's drug paraphernalia and her pot. None of it was mine. We didn't get busted for drugs; that was her."
Timoner: "There's an A&R woman we interviewed in the film, and she provided me and Anton with a joint. Anton was driving my car, and he said he had a bench warrant out for his arrest, and then he waived the rights to have my car searched without even asking me."
Taylor: "I remember seeing the footage of [the bust] and just howling."
Newcombe: "They wove it into the film with Courtney narrating and being like 'Huh, when we tour Europe and get busted for drugs, it's a fine the cost of three Dandy Warhol T-shirts. With them, it's the end of their tour.' It's bullsh--."
Timoner: "It's funny that Anton obsesses over that joint, because there're scenes in the movie where he's nodding off on heroin. We could've shown much more extreme examples of him in the depths of drugs."
Newcombe: "I don't feel ashamed about my drug use in the film. That's what I was doing. I was holed up in my house in Laurel Canyon shooting up. It was hurting the people I loved. Some people thought I was going to die."
Taylor: "Drugs have never really been a problem for anyone. In the life of this band, drugs have never been an issue. We just like food, wine, conversation, sex, music, film, drugs, clothes, you know? There's a lot of things in this world, you know what I mean?"
As the film ends, Newcombe looks like a lost cause, as does his relationship with Taylor. But time heals wounds. And you'd be surprised how things turned out.
Newcombe: "I feel grateful that I'm not high anymore. But I didn't quit dope because I was ashamed of doing dope. I quit it because of the effect it was having on my life. Courtney and I talk now and then. We had plans to take a road trip this summer. We were going to drive to Yosemite."
Taylor: "We go out and drink beers, and we talk about sh--. That's me and Anton. I wouldn't be as successful or influential as I have been if I didn't spend the last eight years trying to keep up with him. Trying to constantly impress him."
Timoner: "They get along a lot better now, I think, because of the film. Courtney really worships Anton to an extent. They really are each other's barometers of success and integrity, which is why this story is so compelling."
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