Dig! (Remix Edition) Review
Coming along at a particularly distinguished time for documentary filmmaking, Ondi Timoner’s Dig! is a fine example of the form. Given astonishingly intimate access to her subjects, she constructs an insightful, funny and often very sad story of two bands; The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Superficially, it’s a contrasting study of success and failure, during which the former band achieves fame while the latter band struggles along, craving success but never quite achieving it. But it’s not quite as simple as that.
Both bands are led by men who could be kindly described as charismatic figureheads and less kindly as raging egomaniacs. The lead singer of The Dandy Warhols is Courtney Taylor, one of those slaves to superficial style who considers himself some kind of profound thinker. Taylor is rather unsympathetic, providing a running commentary on the film which works against him as often as it tips the scales in his favour. He is certainly very talented but not nearly as brilliant as he thinks he is and it’s only a basic savvy and awareness of how far to sell out that enables him and the band to navigate their way through the murky waters of the record business. It’s Taylor’s fundamental ability to progress the band’s career that provides the perfect complement to the leader of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Anton Newcombe. He is considerably more talented that Taylor, something of a musical genius by all accounts – I say that because the music we hear doesn’t particularly justify such a description – but lacks anything resembling a level head and his stubborn refusal to compromise on any level results in the band scrubbing around in the lower leagues.
Timoner began shooting the film in 1995, originally intending to focus on ten bands that were emerging in the LA music scene of the time. But she began to realise, quite early on, that she was mostly fascinated by Newcombe and Taylor, so the spotlight was narrowed onto the two groups. This has the immediate advantage of providing an obvious focus and, as one band find success, a classic structure. But to her credit, Timoner refuses to make things so obvious. It’s made very clear that the success of The Dandy Warhols is based on endless compromise and deals with the record company devil. They go through a kind of systematic humiliation at the hands of fashion photographer David LaChapelle who is hired to shoot their first video. They have to negotiate on everything and the ultimate and not very surprising conclusion is that record companies are more interested in money than they are in music. In this context, Anton Newcombe’s disinclination to sell out to the industry can be seen as both heroic and naïve. Newcombe is steeped in music history and he knows exactly where his music comes from and should surely have learned the lessons of his influences. So he must, therefore, be aware that only by selling out to some degree can his music be disseminated to the wide audience that he feels it deserves. He points out at one time that the Beatles were for sale but that he never will be - but he’s intelligent enough to know that without selling themselves, he would almost certainly never have heard of them and the likes of Revolver and The White Album wouldn’t even be footnotes in the annals of music.
Yet there’s something about Anton which makes him far more sympathetic than Taylor. For one thing, while Taylor seems to pose as a rebel, Anton really is one. With him, it’s far more than a style statement; it’s a way of life. We see this time and again in the film. Given the chance of a major record deal, Anton and the band decide to fuck it up by fighting on stage. Going for a major tour of the USA, they end up playing to ten people in a Communist Party assembly hall and, subsequently, insist on playing for ten hours non-stop. At one point, the band has a wild party and, in the morning, Courtney Taylor and his cohorts turn up to be photographed in amongst the aftermath – the message is clear; Anton lives the life, Courtney flirts with it. Another point in Anton’s favour is that he’s very amusing to watch, although the laughs sometimes stick in the throat because the behaviour largely comes from his increasingly self-destructive addictions to heroin and alcohol. If your jaw sometimes drops at his behaviour, it quickly comes back into place when you reflect that this is a very talented man who, essentially, is behaving like a spoilt adolescent. It’s no wonder that the band has such a turnover of members.
But we understand where Anton is coming from, far more than we do Courtney Taylor. This is because, I think, Timoner is far more interested in Anton as a person. Taylor is, as I stated above, given a voiceover which connects the film together but he remains oddly uninteresting as a person. Certainly Taylor is something of a mystery but he’s not a very fascinating one. Anton is given a background, fleshed out through interviews with his mother and, poignantly, his absentee father who kills himself a year after the interview, on his son’s birthday. His increasing distance from Taylor, once a good friend, can be ascribed to simple jealousy but, as my colleague Anthony Nield points out in his review, the basic problem is that the two men want to be like each other – Taylor wants to be a wild, erratic genius and Newcombe wants to be a good businessman. At the end of the film, nothing is resolved and Timoner creates a feeling that life goes on without much changing one way or another. If her central thesis – that the music business is full of shits – is familiar and far from original, the manner of propounding it through studies of two men is often brilliantly achieved and deserves a much wider audience than simply fans of the music.
Now this is interesting. Back when Dig! was first released, Tartan announced that a 2-disc special edition would accompany the single disc version. This never appeared so it was reasonable to expect that this so-called “Remix Edition” would be the promised 2-discer. In fact, what we have is virtually identical to the original release with the addition of 14 deleted scenes, lasting about 33 minutes in total. Interesting as these are, I don’t think they warrant a double-dip if you already have the original 2005 release.
The technical specs remain identical to the first DVD and the results are no better and no worse. The 1.33:1 transfer is very solid, although as Anthony’s review stated, the wide array of sources and film stocks mean that it’s hard to come to any conclusions about the quality of the image. It’s certainly as good as when I saw it in the cinema. I suspected, as did Anthony, that this is an NTSC-PAL conversion given the running time but DVD Beaver claims that it is a direct digital transfer. No complaints at all about the excellent choice of soundtracks. I incline towards the DTS 5.1 surround track myself for better fidelity and range but the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also excellent.
The extra features include, as well as the aforementioned deleted scenes, a 15 minute interview with the director, the original trailer and some trailers for other rock-themed films from Tartan. The interview is the same one from the 2005 disc and is interesting without going into as much depth as an audio commentary might have done. Clearly, Timoner is more than eloquent enough to sustain a talk for the duration of the movie and she did provide a talk track for the US DVD, as did members of the two bands.
At one point during the interview, Timoner says that there was enough material on the cutting room floor to furnish an alternative version of the movie. The 33 minutes of deleted footage we see here goes some way towards demonstrating this although it still falls short of the 48 minutes of deleted footage on the R1.
Tartan really do seem to be shortchanging us here with a ‘Remix’ edition that is barely different to the original one. Fans of the film who are eager for a definitive DVD version of it should probably look to the R1 disc from Palm Pictures – if they haven’t already done so - which contains three commentary tracks and a number of featurettes, along with more deleted scenes.