An underground band self-destructs in the hands of its damaged leader.

The Anton Newcombe Massacre 

An underground band self-destructs in the hands of its damaged leader.

"I'm not for sale. I'm fucking love. I give it away." So says Anton Newcombe, the raging megalomaniac who heads the Brian Jonestown Massacre, an underground rock band determined to take over the world. First he hurls the words at the audience. Then he informs the crowd that they bought tickets, so he'll give them what they paid for. (So maybe he is for sale?) Not long after that, Newcombe kicks an audience member in the head. That must be the love part.

If you're looking for logic, you won't find it here. Newcombe may be widely regarded (by his peers, rivals, fans and members of the recording industry) as a musical genius, but he doesn't have a grip on sense. Dig!, a documentary that trails his band through seven years of drugs, onstage brawls and interpersonal dysfunction, takes Newcombe as its antihero, the boy who would be great -- if only he could stand to let other people help him.

Though the movie presents itself as a duel between two bands (the Massacre and the Dandy Warhols, whose founder narrates), it's really about Newcombe and his severely damaged personality. Directed by Ondi Timoner (who edited 1,500 hours of footage down to less than two), Dig! is a solid piece of documentary, and it has things to say about the corporatization of the recording industry (mostly about how its megahit economics have killed plenty of good music). But that's not news. Is Newcombe? It's hard to tell.

If Newcombe is a genius, he's not altogether new. He borrows heavily from John Lennon, early Rolling Stones, Lou Reed and, stylistically, from Charles Manson. His music is good -- very good. But Newcombe can't stop rehearsing his own story, playing out the cycle of success and self-sabotage ad nauseam. No sooner has he gotten a break than he fucks it up. This kind of narcissistic bullshit becomes tedious about halfway through a feature-length film.

In the film's deepest segment, Timoner interviews Newcombe's parents, and it's easy to see where things went wrong. His mother, weary of having had to rescue Newcombe from trouble throughout his teenage years, has washed her hands of him. Newcombe's father, an alcoholic, left the family when his son was a toddler and failed to show up in any meaningful way thereafter. The father speaks with admirable candor about his role, or lack thereof, in Newcombe's life. All of this seems bold and even healing until we learn that Newcombe's father committed suicide not long after the interview. On Newcombe's birthday.

Kicking an audience member in the head? Starting to make a lot more sense. "I don't do anything wrong. That's why I don't say I'm sorry," Newcombe informs a bandmate, though it's plain to everyone that nearly everything Newcombe does is wrong, except for the music.

What's great about rival band the Dandy Warhols and its leader Courtney Taylor is their honesty. From their vantage point of successful relationships, good finances and a major record label, they watch Newcombe self-destruct while creating their own strong music. When Taylor describes the Brian Jonestown Massacre as a "pack of 14-year-old boys from abusive, broken homes set loose in the ghetto," he names them. But more than anything, it's what Newcombe is. And the band can't get anywhere without him -- or with him.

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