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|2 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Do opposites really attract? After watching 20 minutes of the 2004
documentary DiG!, the story of two burgeoning west coast rock bands,
Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols, devolves into a tale of
polar opposites trying to exist on the same plane. There's BJM's lead
singer Anton Newcombe and his combustible attitude leading a pack of
drug-happy musicians, all of who are Anton's worst enemies. And then
there's the Dandys' front man Courtney Taylor, whose laid back nature
is a driving force behind The Dandy Warhols' tight-knit community of
sonic revolution. Their paths cross many times, but never travel down
the same course.
The film revolves around Brian Jonestown Massacre, the greatest band to never make it. Why they've never made it is debatable, and much of the movie explores this dynamic through the voice-over quandaries of Courtney Taylor. Anton is dissected throughout the movie, whether the focus is his yo-yo attitude, his descent into heavy drug use, or his role as the root cause of the band's in fighting. What's never in question is Anton's penchant for writing and playing some of the best rock/pop songs this side of Brian Jonestown Massacre's namesake. He clearly is a musical genius, but his destructible personality is his professional downfall. It holds the band down and buries the egos of the contributing forces behind the band, the most notable being Matt Hollywood. Matt isn't looking for the limelight or the credit he rightfully deserves; rather, he just wants acknowledgment and acceptance from Anton. When it never comes, the band and Anton take a turn for the worse.
Conversely, the Dandy Warhols' story acts as the counterbalance to the shenanigans of Brian Jonestown Massacre. The band earns the much sought after major label contract, only to discover the true nastiness of recording albums, making videos and having little label support. Whereas the strains of everyday band business weighs down on Anton, Courtney Taylor and company are able to persevere and push ahead. The Dandys learn to adapt without compromising their spirit or their sound, even if it means being at odds with Capitol and fashion photographer-turned-video director Dave LaChapelle.
The wonder of DiG! is discovered within each band's interaction with the other. Anton is turned onto the Dandys from a tape he receives from a friend, and soon the bands meet and become quick party buddies. Performances throughout the west coast solidify this friendship until the Dandy Warhols get the call to big leagues, leaving Brian Jonestown Massacre to wallow in minor obscurity. Their paths continue to cross again in the wildest of places: at a guerrilla photo shoot for the Dandys at Brian Jonestown Massacre's home, when Courtney Taylor flies across the country to hang out with Anton and company on their first major American tour, or when Anton passes out Brian Jonestown Massacre albums to anyone and everyone outside of a Dandy Warhols performance in NYC as the Dandys question Anton's sanity.
The sad truth behind DiG! is discovering that Anton, no matter how capable he is behind a musical instrument, is nothing more than a fallible human. His constant fights with audience members, band members and his past leave him angry at everything but himself. He may want to live in the '60s, but he can't give in to peace, love and happiness. No matter the success and failures he and Brian Jonestown Massacre face, they're doomed to live in musical hell -- obscurity. Meanwhile, the Dandy Warhols rise above to discover that they're a band on the rise when left to their own devices. Whether it's rekindling a love of music in the basking glow of European admiration, or pushing the envelope of sound, the band seems to have it all -- or at least, everything Anton Newcombe wants but will never let himself have.
By now the myth that is Jandek could devour an entire metropolis a la
the Blob. Every stone that's been turned has provided little insight
into who truly lurks behind the pseudonym. Although those in my shoes
would have you believe that Jandek is the master of keeping to himself,
that's far from the truth. He's plastered his face over dozens of
albums covers, and he's made Corwood Industries- the company that has
single-handedly birthed Jandek albums to the world through sleight of
hand and a P.O. Box- an easily accessible business through the pen and
paper. Just write the man, and as long as you aren't hoping to pry into
his personal life, he'll be more than happy to return your query with a
cryptic, almost Confucius-like wisdom. He took a large step last year,
gracing a European stage with an unannounced performance, and he has
another one billed for this calendar year. And of course, he gave his
blessing to the minds behind Jandek on Corwood, the documentary trying
to discover just who is Jandek the musician.
What makes Jandek on Corwood work is how the subject is approached. This is not guerrilla storytelling. Director Chad Freidrichs doesn't go chasing the myth, nor does he seek out the origins and private life of Jandek. Instead, Freidrichs focuses on telling the story of Jandek and his music by letting Jandek's music be the focus of the story. Throughout the film dark shots of eerie landscapes, playgrounds, beaches, and small towns fill the gaps between interviews and lore. Jandek's brand of music is allowed to dictate the pace and the shape of the story, which lends itself to a wonderful tale of the power and effect the musician and his songs have on a variety of listeners.
The music may function as the centerpiece, but a documentary would be nothing without interviews and insights from the cornucopia of people involved, either directly or indirectly, in Jandek's musical life. The most compelling interviews come from those who have had the most contact with Jandek and his music. Phil Milstein, who is admittedly a huge Jandek fan, wrote the first published review of Ready for the House for Op Magazine. His insightful review not only turned a handful of adventurous publishers and music lovers into Jandek fans, but it is the singular cause behind Jandek's release of more content. John Trubee is quite possibly the diamond in the rough within Jandek on Corwood. Trubee, who was recruited to write for the then-fledgling Spin Magazine, is the only person to be interview Jandek over the telephone. Excerpts from the conversation are used to explain a myriad of subjects from Jandek's unorthodox tunings, the origin of his name, and his musical joys (Jandek digs Tom Petty. Who knew?). If the excerpts aren't enough, the DVD contains the entire phone conversation, which is worth the rental/purchase alone.
Jandek fans and haters can find something to enjoy watching Jandek on Corwood. The presentation is crisp, and the subject isn't dissected so much as inspected. No matter how many performances Jandek plans in the future; no matter how many albums he continues to push out; no matter how many people see, hear or touch him, he will always be a living example of man overcoming image to create unique sound in his own private world. It's a world we should all respect and admire, and one that we should be privileged not to inhabit beyond the occasional dalliance into Jandek's musical catalogue.