'DiG!' *** 050905
DVD Review (2004)


The Work = ***
Okey dokey. 'DiG!' is a surprisingly engaging documentary following two bands sort of rise to popularity. I was not familiar with Brian Jonestown Massacre and had only heard a couple of songs by The Dandy Warhols and really didn’t know anything about them. Watching this film brought back memories of another documentary I saw not too long ago, 'Live Forever'. (I wrote a review of that film but accidentally deleted it and will rewrite it at some point.)

'Live Forever' was also a surprisingly engaging doc’ and it followed two well known bands, Blur and Oasis. I was not particularly a fan of either band but the doc’ made me think twice. Now 'DiG!' has done the same but for BJM and for TDW. It was filmed over the span of seven years and edited down to one hour forty five minutes.

'DiG!', as I said, is very entertaining but it is also somewhat shallow. Both bands do huge amounts of drugs and drink enough to kill a herd of elephants. Their attitude and their personalities (particularly that of BJM founder/ frontman Anton Newcombe) are brought to the front but it comes at the cost of their work. The problem becomes that there is much talk of Newcombe being a genius but not a lot of evidence.

The director Ondi Timoner shows the concerts that go awry for BJM and montages of good ones but she never shows any ground breaking performances and doesn’t play any particularly impressive songs. I realize that may not have been the point of 'DiG!' but it would have been nice to seen some of the supposedly amazing work that Newcombe created. DW fairs much better, and even though Timoner doesn’t show any complete performances she does show some great montages of huge crowds jumping in time to a few of DW’s more catchy tunes.

Newcombe appears to be an engaging individual who does seem to draw people to him. The trouble is he can be abusive and unpredictable, especially when doing heavy drugs like heroin. He can be somewhat explosive and sometimes violent. The other members too occasionally explode in some outburst or another, often directed at or a result of, Newcombe. It doesn’t seem like too much of a surprise considering the amount of drugs and alcohol the members of BJM ingest.

The whole issue of help came to mind. No one that I heard ever mentioned trying to help Newcombe, or any of the others with their problems. The members of DW manage to do their drugs and alcohol in (from the looks of the documentary) a mostly under control, manageable and productive way. They rise to a niche stardom while BJM plummets towards self destruction. I suppose that there is not too much that can be done for someone who does not want help. Timoner, to her credit, may have tried and just not put it in the documentary.

In the end, 'DiG!' is very entertaining and easy to recommend. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have my qualms with it. I wanted more info on the band members besides just Newcombe. I also wanted to see more evidence of his talent. Still, it may play a bit exploitative but it is remarkable the Timoner was able to follow the two bands as long as she did. Her drive resulted in, if nothing else a unique, interesting and enjoyable documentary.

DVD = ****

The Look
Pretty lame Millhouse. Alright so it is not that bad but this film does not look so great. It is totally a case of the source material not being there. Since the film was shot over seven years and Timoner was not exactly rolling in dough the shooting equipment and materials were not always the best. Mixing a lot of video with 16mm and 8mm the film has quite a range of picture quality. Palm Pictures does an admirable job of taking the material and giving it the best transfer they could.

The Sound
'DiG!' gets a pretty good audio mix. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 track and also a Dolby Digital 2.0 track.

The Bonus
This is a two disc set and for a movie that didn’t get all that big a reception in the theaters it gets a pretty loaded DVD release. Disc one has something called “Link Outs” that when turned on basically makes an icon appears at about ten points throughout the film. Press the button and the DVD plays extra footage. You can also select the footage by title manually if your player allows that.

Watching the bonus footage was when I first started to suspect that events in 'DiG!' at some points could have really taken a turn for the worse. At one point in a scene that was cut from the film Newcombe brandishes a sword at the camera threatening the “paparazzi” jokingly. (His name for Timoner’s camera.) His next move is to pull a gun and cock the hammer. Fortunately he is stopped before he razes the gun by Joel Gion. Newcombe appeared to be drunk and high and that could have ended in a homicide or an injury.

The only other features on disc one are the commentaries. There are three, count ‘em three tracks. The first is the BJM track and has comments from Joel Gion, Matt Hollywood, Dean Taylor, Dave Deresinski and Miranda Lee Richards. This is the funniest track with some reminiscing by the members as well as background info, inaccuracies in the film and generally just tooling on people.

The second is the DW track with Courtney Taylor, Peter Holmstrom, Zia McCabe and Brent Deboer. This track is slow and has the biggest gaps. (Actually I suspect that some of those were actually made by the studio removing comments for legal reasons because some of the pauses seem odd.) Even with the gaps the track is still pretty good. Holmstrom leads it and there is background info given and inaccuracies in the film talked about. Its especially interesting to hear Holmstrom’s polite protests to some of Timoner’s editorial choices.

The third track is from the filmmakers and has director/ producer/ cinematographer/ editor Ondi Timoner, co-producer/ cinematographer/ additional editor David Timoner and co-producer/ cinematographer/ editorial advisor Vasco Lucas Nunes. This track is the most overall informative and goes into details about the background of the film and also again, inaccuracies in it. A couple of times Timoner mentioned leaving things out because they were too dark or too extreme. While I appreciate wanting to make an entertaining film, it’s a shame she did that because the dangers of Newcombe’s actions (and many of the others) are left out of the film. I wish she had gone darker because while it may not have been as fun, it might have come closer to the reality. Then again what do I know? I wasn’t there.

The second disk has music videos, deleted scenes song performances, trailers, interviews, (Timoner looks to be an interesting character in her own right, as she starts breast feading durring one interview, causing the camera operator to quickly reframe the shot,) footage of the commentary recordings and “where are they now” type interviews. It proves nice addition as it rounds out the feature giving more information on the two bands. The “where are they now” segments are nice because everyone seems to have made it to a good place. The former BJM members come off a little bittersweet and Joel Gion especially seems almost sad. Gion deserves to be a bigger success than he is. The guy has real screen presence and certainly did not deserve to go through the crap he did. I would have liked to have had some commentary(s) on some of the extra footage and especially some commentary by DW on their videos. (Who knows, maybe they will on their own DVD release.)

Newcombe is missing from the extra features which is a shame but not exactly surprising. I would be interested to know just how out of control he is. (Holmstrom mentions hanging out with him in 2004 so apparently they are still on some workable terms.) I wonder if maybe he was just in the swarm of heavy drugs and alcohol mixed with the loss of a parent and lack of acceptance from another. Having now looked on it seems that Newcombe is definitely unhappy with his portrayal in the film. (There is a link at the bottom of the page to his statement.)

Now I must say that he refers to Timoner as “this person” and I think that is the first warning bell that he may be putting his own spin on the events because they clearly seemed like friends. He seems to imply that she was a sort of just a curious filmmaker or something. He says he kicked heroine in 1997 and that is where most of the footage comes from that shows him out of control. This would seem to conflict with some of what the DW and the other members of BJM say. So who knows? It’s up to you to decide. For me I definitely think Timoner did manipulate the footage to make a more entertaining film as opposed to a more truthful one. That however does not necessarily mean Newcombe is right or telling the truth either.

All together = ***
So between the bonus features and the entertaining film, 'DiG!' is an easy recommendation. I know sooner or later I’ll be picking up a copy for my DVD library. That being said I must admit that I can’t give it as hearty a recommendation as some critics are doing. The film fails to show how one of its central subjects is talented. Yes it shows people gravitate to Newcombe but not what he produces. The other problem is, the more I watched the extra features on the DVD the more issues I had with 'DiG!' Maybe I’m nitpicking but it seems like there was a lot cut out that showed just how far Newcombe was falling. I wanted a more truthful portrait. Maybe this should have been called a docudrama instead of a documentary. Either way I recommend it.


'DiG!' Links:


Anton Newcombe's statement about 'DiG!'

'Live Forever' at IMDB

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