Rock and roll is a genre designed for the cinema. It has everything you could want in a big-screen adaptation – sex, drugs and big personalities, all of which culminate into some juicy backstage drama. This was the case for Dig! a 2004 documentary that chronicled the careers of a pair of young, upstart bands — the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, as well as their respective lead singers, the Warhols’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor and the Massacre’s Anton Newcombe.
The documentary, which was awarded the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, expertly crafted a narrative of two bands and their respective paths to stardom and destruction. Neither the Brian Jonestown Massacre nor the Dandy Warhols, the latter of which plays White Oak Music Hall’s downstairs room on Thursday — ever quite “got there” as a band.
Both have settled into comfortable touring and recording schedules, but neither really achieved heights that once seemed imminent. That said, Dig! remains among the finest rock documentaries ever produced, certainly in the 21st century. It’s got some great company, too. (This list is in alphabetical order.)
AWESOME, I FUCKIN’ SHOT THAT
Beastie Boys, 2005
The Beastie Boys always did it just a little bit differently, and that held true for their documentary-making tactics as well. Rather than hiring a director to take the reins in shooting their hometown concert in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 2004, they simply handed out digital cameras to random folks in attendance, then chronicled the experience. The result is a bootleg-style documentary that truly captures the fans' view of checking out one of their favorite bands live in concert. That this particular group happened to be among the most innovative of its time only added to the documentary’s impact.
THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON
Daniel Johnston, 2005
Yes, this award-winning documentary, which took home the Documentary Directing Award at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, is technically a rockumentary, in that it chronicles the life of a musician. But to stop there does a disservice to both the film and its subject. The Devil and Daniel Johnston chronicles a man who has battled mental-health issues for much of his life, one who has used music as both catharsis and escape. Music is certainly the focus of the film, but Devil doesn’t shy away from Johnston’s severe bipolar disorder and the impact it has on both him and his family.
The Dandy Warhols; Brian Jonestown Massacre, 2004
The Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre certainly have a lot in common. During the course of the shooting of the film, which took place over seven years, it’s apparent that both bands are young upstarts with charismatic front men and fame on their minds. The similarities, however, end there. While the Dandy Warhols (led by Taylor-Taylor) played the commercial game to a modicum of success (the band has put out a few Gold records overseas), the Brian Jonestown Massacre were only as stable as front man Anton Newcombe. Considering Newcombe is portrayed as a paranoid, temperamental, mentally ill drug addict, you can imagine how well the band fared commercially (hint: not very). Both groups are still actively touring and producing music, but will always be intertwined thanks to one of the best — and most surprisingly entertaining — rock documentaries of all time.
I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART: A FILM ABOUT WILCO
When you catch lightning in a bottle, and it’s caught on camera, you get one of the better rock documentaries ever. Wilco started out signed to Reprise Records, which slowly grew frustrated with the band’s lack of commercial appeal. Then the band recorded Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but Reprise, unhappy with the record, dropped the band from the label. But Wilco released the album on its website, and buzz began to build. Wilco signed with Nonesuch Records and released Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which became a critical and commercial hit. The band lived happily ever after — sort of. Multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett, who feuded with front man Jeff Tweedy for much of the film, was kicked out of the band before Yankee Hotel Foxtrot broke Wilco into the pseudo-mainstream.
METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER
This one was originally supposed to chronicle Metallica’s recording of 2003’s St. Anger. Instead, filmmakers saw a band in the middle of a full-fledged meltdown, and the result was the most therapeutic rock documentary in history. Here was Metallica, once one of the most badass rock bands on the planet, reduced to what essentially was couples therapy. Drummer Lars Ulrich and front man James Hetfield play the role of a married couple who have been together far too long and fell out of love long ago, but are far too invested to end things. And poor guitarist Kirk Hammett, basically the only child of the band, is reduced to watching his parents fight; all he wanted to do was play music. Some Kind of Monster is unquestionably one of the most insightful documentaries of its time, which is a blessing, since St. Anger ranks among the worst albums in Metallica’s catalog.
SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS
LCD Soundsystem, 2012
The shine has been knocked off this one a bit, in that it was originally billed as chronicling LCD Soundsystem’s final show at Madison Square Garden in 2011. Only issue is, LCD mastermind James Murphy has since decided to get back out on the road (LCD was among the headliners at the recent ACL Festival). That said, Shut Up still offers keen insight into a band that was critically beloved but never a major commercial force, as well as Murphy’s thinking behind shutting the band down for good. It’s a master class in exploring the mind of a rock star.
The Dandy Warhols and special guests Savoy Motel perform Thursday, October 13 at White Oak Music Hall, 2915 North Main.
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