DiG! charts the troubled friendship and career paths of musicians Anton Newcombe and Courtney Taylor. Emerging in the mid-90s, Newcombe led his band The Brian Jonestown Massacre to independent success before his unstable personality and a strong antipathy for the record industry burst the band's promising commercial bubble. Meanwhile Courtney Taylor's outfit, The Dandy Warhols, enjoy considerable underground success and make the decision to sign with a major label. Newcombe's crusade to stage a revolution in the music industry and Taylor's determination to combine wide appeal with artistic integrity are chronicled over a tumultuous seven year period.
Review by Richard Kuipers:
The most telling comment in this account of a narcissistic musician and his less talented but more stable friend/rival is "all those 60s bands got into drugs, but they were famous first". That sums up the maddening career of Anton Newcombe, whose alternately inspiring and pathetic story is told in parallel with that of his contemporary Courtney Taylor. Listening to the early recordings of Newcombe's band The Brian Jonestown Massacre (whose music will sell in numbers again once this is released), there seems no doubt that the thoroughly dislikeable Newcombe did possess the elements of musical greatness. The BJM's pastiche of classic Britpop sounds are irresistible - think The Kinks and Spencer Davis Group, with Herman's Hermits' vocalist Peter Noone and early Pink Floyd thrown in - and establish him immediately as a far more dynamic creative force than Courtney Taylor and his Dandy Warhols.
What makes this documentary so compelling is its intimacy and the extended time line it covers. Filmed over seven years by what looks like an army of camera jockeys standing by at every significant moment, this is a highly charged look at the reasons why Taylor succeeded commercially while his prodigiously gifted one-time friend Newcombe squandered his shot at the big time on the usual demons of drugs and a monstrously inflated ego.
Narrated by Courtney Taylor with a generosity that keeps proceedings from turning into a freak show, DiG! is littered with memorable moments, as the famous friendship of the bands is ripped apart by Newcombe's assertion that the Dandy's have sold out - yes, that old chestnut. Foremost among these is a Viper Room showcase gig that descended into a debacle and effectively destroyed the BJM's chances of landing a major contract. In another devastating sequence we see Newcombe's unstable father talking of his regrets before we discover he committed suicide on his son's birthday. To believe the line that Newcombe pushes here, he couldn't care less about playing the game - how else can he justify appalling performances and attacking band members on stage?
More than 40 musicians have filed through the BJM ranks since 1990 and as the documentary progresses there's a growing look in Newcombe's eyes that says even he's having trouble believing his own hype any more. It's a sad picture but not a tragic one, for Newcombe has recovered sufficiently to play to appreciative audiences and turn out the odd work of brilliance. The brilliance here lies in the editing of over 1500 hours of footage into a cogent and compelling 105 minutes. Like all superior documentaries, this remarkable first feature by Ondi Timoner transcends its subject matter by engaging our emotions and making us care about the likes of Anton Newcombe, even if we don't like him very much
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CAST: Documentary with Anton Newcombe, Courtney Taylor-Taylor, Joel Gion, Matt Hollywood, Peter Holmstrom, Zia McCabe, Brent DeBoer, Eric Hedford, Dean Taylor
PRODUCER: Ondi Timoner
DIRECTOR: Ondi Timoner
SCRIPT: Ondi Timoner
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Vasco Nunes, David Timoner, Ondi Timoner
EDITOR: Ondi Timoner
PRODUCTION DESIGN: N/a
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 14, 2005
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
VIDEO RELEASE: October 19, 2005
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
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