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Monday, April 10, 2006

This week at the SFC: DiG!

Thursday 13 April, 2006

DiG! (Ondi Timone/2004/USA/107')

StudioFilmClub is pleased to be screening the winner of the Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize, DiG!

Seven years in the making and culled from over 200 hours of footage, DiG! plunges into the underbelly of rock 'n' roll, unearthing an incredible true story of success and self destruction. Anton A. Newcome of the Brian Jonestown Massacre and Courtney Taylor of the Dandy Warhols are star-crossed friends and bitter rivals--DiG! is the story of their loves and obsessions, gigs and recordings, arrests and death threats, uppers and downers, and the delicate balance between art and commerce.

"Heaven sent! If universities ever start graduate programs in rock stardom, DiG! will surely be a cornerstone of the curriculum!" -- The New York Times

Italian fabulist Italo Calvino observed that there are two kinds of artists--those who are prolific and successful, and the tortured geniuses, each glazing at the other in deep jealousy and admiration. The two rock bands chronicled in the documentary DiG! fall easily into this equation. On the side of the tortured geniuses is the Brian Jonestown Massacre, led by the psychedelic and volatile Anton Newcombe. Portland's the Dandy Warhols, fronted by Courtney Taylor, fulfill the role of the artists who, while unable to plumb the artistic depths of their friendly rivals, achieve a fair degree of popular acclaim (in Europe, anyway). Shot over seven years and containing some astonishingly intimate footage, the film represents a labor of love for director Ondi Timoner, who befriended, lived, and traveled with the bands. DiG! will likely be most remembered for a remarkable scene of rock and roll implosion--a show in LA's Viper Room after which the Brian Jonestown Massacre were expected to ink a record deal. Instead, the band erupted in a fist fight onstage. Among themselves.

Does it go uphill or downhill from here? Depends on your definition of the terms. While dooming their careers, the Brian Jonestown Massacre manage to crank out an insane number of self-distributed albums--including three records in a single year. Courtney Taylor and the Dandies regard the musical output of their peers worshipfully and find themselves virtually ignored stateside but huge stars across the pond. While tens of thousands of fans in Germany and the UK sing along to every word at sold-out festivals headlined by the Dandies, Newscombe leads his crew in a nine-hour set in a dingy club for an audience of ten. Throughout the film there are controlled substances imbibed, clothing shed, sitars broken, punches thrown, arrests made. Taylor performs double duty as narrator of the film, begging the question of whether to accept his assertion that he fronts "the most well-adjusted band in America" at face value. The destined-for-greater-things Joel Gion, BJM's tambourine player, is the thief of every scene in which he appears, playing Flavor Flav to Newscombe's Chuck D. Those responsible for the hilarious excesses of DiG! have made a movie worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as This Is Spinal Tap, as mixed an honor as that might be.

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