“I was in France and had to do over seventy interviews,” said Ondi Timoner, as she spoke into her cell phone’s headpiece. The slender framed Timoner paced outside the Austin Film Society screening room in a dark green shirt and brown pants. She looks towards my direction and we smile at one another. As she looks away she tells her headpiece that MTV is here and she has to go. Timoner walks inside the tiny screening room. I follow her inside and take my seat as she introduces her film, DIG!, the 2004 Sundance Grand Jury award-winning documentary of two star-crossed rock bands, the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, on their distinct paths to fame.
A culmination of seven year of footage, the film focuses on two bands whose mere admiration for one another turns into a bitter rivalry that leads the Portland-based Warhols and their charismatic lead singer, Courtney Taylor, into moderate stardom, while San Francisco’s Brian Jonestown Massacre (referred to mostly as BJM), descend into a downward spiral of drug addiction, internecine squabbles, and misdirection, in most part, at the hand of megalomaniacal musical genius, Anton Newcombe.
At first these front men (and their bands) appear vastly different. Pretty faced Taylor, self-describes his bandmates as the most “well-adjusted band in America,” while Newcombe’s bipolar personality and obsessive determination to ensue a “brand new musical revolution” leads his band from A&R darlings to unsigned musical pariahs.
However, as DIG! unfolds in a series of events, the Warhols and the BJM become mirror images of one another. Where BJM partake of heroine, the Warhols sing about the drug’s passé on the brilliant “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth,” only to later snort crack. When Anton’s band gets arrested for drug possession in Georgia, the Dandy Warhols elude arrest in France and as Taylor boasts, “ and we kept the grass too.”
Timoner depicts the Warhols and BJM as promising bands with distinct drives. Taylor and his band mates land a major label record deal, while the other eludes (mostly Newcombe’s doing) any reason in working with fat greasy record executives, only to later sign with TVT Records. Eventually, both bands deal with the downside of the music business climaxing with Taylor’s infamous proclamation “I sneeze and hits come out!”
Although, Taylor and the Dandy Warhols achieved moderate success statewide and fame in Europe, neither of these bands truly outshines the other in sheer musical credibility. What Timoner captures in DIG! is a fantastic documentation of upstart musicians who tackle credibility, ambition, addiction, while the music business threatens to swallow them alive.
“I started editing the film in 2000,” said Timoner, “and it took countless hours. I was pregnant at the time and there were times when scenes in the film affected me and I’d cry.”
But Timoner was determined to complete her film admitting that occasionally the editing process felt more like a mountain climb. She sought other film editors for help, to steer her clear and away from the project, but her determination to have control of her work kept Timoner working throughout her pregnancy.
“I’d bump into Anton Newcombe and he’d ask me, ‘Ondi, when are you finishing the film?’ and I’d tell him that I was still working on it. And I was, but Anton never seemed to believe that I was,” said Timoner.
Timoner had to work through over 2,000 hours of footage that her and her brother, David, had amassed. “I wasn’t certain from all the countless hours of editing that the footage I selected was something that would resonate with people,” admits Timoner, “There were times when I had to cut entire scenes that didn’t propel the story forward. They were great scenes, gems which I had to kill.”
What encouraged Timoner to kill her darlings, focus on the storytelling, and complete DIG! was the DVD. “I knew I was leaving out some great stuff, which I would eventually include in the DVD. In fact, the fact that I could include additional footage on the DVD, allowed me to edit the film to the form you see now.”
The film depicts BJM’s front man, Anton Newcombe in a light which even Newcombe objected, publicly denouncing the film on the BJM website by stating, “Several years of our hard work was reduced at best to a series of punch-ups and mishaps taken out of context, and at worst bold face lies and misrepresentations of fact.”
Timoner explains that Anton would’ve never been happy with any version of the film. “I recently heard that he’s actually backing the film, telling friends and people that it’s up for an Oscar,” Timoner said with a grin.
It’s easy to dislike Newcombe on screen but as Timoner notes the footage almost never lies. Timoner explains that although Newcombe may appear as an eccentric megalomaniac, she tried to edit her content to show the BJM front man with as much compassion and humility as possible.
“I wanted to create a more compassionate portrait of Anton,” she said, explaining that a lot of the darker content made the cut on the DVD, “I’ve worked with him, these bands opened up their lives to me. I wanted to depict them as honest as possible.”
Timoner does point out there times during filming her documentary that Newcombe’s aggressive behavior was directed towards her, especially when it became harder for Timoner to not interfere with the film.
“I wasn’t afraid of Anton. I knew he would never put his hands on me. In fact, I never saw him lay his hands on a woman. There was the scene in the BJM house where he is arguing with his fiancée. You can hear me in the film plead to Anton, ‘She needs love. She needs love.’” explains Timoner, “This lead Anton to kick me out of the house.”
When asked how Joel Guion’s comedic performance played a major part in the film and where Guion was now, Timoner explains, “Joel is doing great. He is a natural comedian. He provided the right amount of comic relief as you see on screen. Joel now works at Amoeba Records and I hear that since the film came out, many people have taken him out for drinks. I really wish Joel the best because he’s truly an untapped talent.”
Timoner also chose Dandy Warhols front man, Courtney Taylor, as her narrator. When asked why she selected Taylor as the only narrator, Timoner said, “Anton and Courtney never shared much time on screen together. Courtney didn’t want to be near Anton most of the time, so here are two bands that have so much admiration for one another, but do it from afar. Taylor admired Anton but when the Warhols started headlining tours and selling records, Anton didn’t want anything to do with them.”
Although, Timoner states that Taylor and Anton were estranged, she notes that most of the time each band knew what each other were doing even if they had no contact with one another. “I would get all the news I needed to know about BJM from the Warhols and all the information about the Warhols from the BJM,” said Timoner, “Courtney always knew what Anton was doing before I did. [Courtney] threaded the narrative together.”
She adds, “I wrote the narration and Taylor read it, recorded it without watching the film, only changing a word or two.”
Timoner notes that Taylor initially refused to see the film until its Portland, Oregon premiere last year. “Someone in the theater took a photo of Courtney while he was watching the film at the premiere, and you can see him grinning from ear to ear.”