Once upon a time on the West Coast, two bands were plotting a revolution.
Well, really, it was one musician concocting a grand plan to dismantle the record industry, bring back a massive revival of 1960s psychedelic rock, and achieve total world domination. His name was Anton Newcombe, and this singer/multi-instrumentalist fronted a San Francisco group blessed with one of the greatest names of any 1990s band: The Brian Jonestown Massacre. The only thing better than their moniker was the music itself, which replicated the vintage, acid-soaked sounds of Haight Street’s heyday to an uncanny degree. Yet thanks to Newcombe’s prodigious chops and prolific songwriting, the BJM, as they called, weren’t an ironic novelty or a nostalgia act. These guys were adding their own unique stylings to yesterday’s lysergic jingle-jangle. In a post-grunge, post-Green Day world, they had “next big thing” written all over them.
Meanwhile, up in Portland, Oregon, Courtney Taylor and his group — gifted with the equally groovy-as-fuck handle The Dandy Warhols — were taking old-school psychedelia and adding a sharp alt-rock edge. When they traveled south to play San Francisco, they met the BJM and quickly recognized kindred spirits in terms of the music, the drugs, and the bohemian lifestyles. Newcombe and Taylor forged an especially close bond. In the former’s mind, Taylor and The Dandys would be co-conspirators in his quest to remake the system, one sitar solo at a time. And after The Dandys signed to Capitol Records, Taylor would talk up Newcombe and his quintet to execs and A&R scouts every chance he got. The revolution would not be televised, but it would be led by two high-cheekboned (and just plain high) artists with an endless supply of retro hooks.
If you’re one of the millions who’ve seen DIG!, Ondi Timoner’s 2004 documentary about these two bands captured at the moment they’re poised to bring their sound to the masses, you know what happens next. Temper tantrums. Ego trips. Onstage fistfights. Disastrous tours, diss tracks, and both parties and sideburns gone out of bounds. And, right at the center of it all, a friendship-turned-rivalry that only gets more heated when one band’s trajectory starts going up, up, up, and the other makes a rapid beeline for rock bottom.
Instantly recognized as a classic from the moment it premiered at Sundance and won that year’s Grand Jury prize for Best Documentary, DIG! was a labor of love that captured a moment when subcultural rock bands could still be called sellouts for signing deals and the record industry had not yet been fully gutted. It regularly shows up on Best Music Docs Ever lists, it’s been parodied on the Gilmore Girls, and has become a staple of tour-bus viewing for two decades. “I got a call from Dave Grohl once,” Timoner says. “And the first thing he says is, ‘Is it fucking you?! I told so many people I was going to talk to you today, and they’re like, No fucking way!!!’ He told me, ‘Every musician has seen this movie. Every one of us knows someone like the band members in this movie. It’s our story. We went through all of that.’”
So when Ondi and her brother/O.G. DIG! collaborator David Timoner realized that the 20th anniversary of the cult favorite was coming up, they started thinking about what they wanted to do to commemorate the milestone. Or more specifically, what they didn’t want to do. “We weren’t interested in, like, just doing DIG: The Extended Version, or DIG: Upscaled,” she says. “Although listen, that’s cool! People would love having more scenes. For years, fans kept asking me when I was going to do DIG 2, and I’ve always been like, ‘I have other stories I want to tell, and only so much time on this planet.’”
It was around this time that David discovered that Joel Gion — The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s tambourine player and in-house court jester, and the grinning face on the DIG! poster — had a Patreon page, and that he’d been writing a memoir about his time in the band titled In the Jingle-Jangle Jungle. After David subscribed, he and Gion began trading memories. When her brother read her some of the ex-BJM member’s writing, Ondi floated the idea of doing something animated “like The Midnight Gospel, but with his prose.” Then the Timoners wondered: What if Gion recorded his own new narration track for their doc? They still had the original voiceover from the Dandy’s singer, who now went by Courtney Taylor-Taylor. But that only covered half the story. Gion could add a separate perspective from the Jonestown side of things — a view from inside the nuclear implosion.
Thus, DIG XX was born, a remastered 20th anniversary remix of the doc that now features Gion giddily walking viewers through the BJM’s real-life tour minefields and Anton’s meltdowns. And though the Timoners weren’t interested in putting out a longer “Director’s Cut” version and calling it a day, they did go back through the 2,500 hours of footage they’d shot (“all of which was just sitting in Ondi’s garage,” David says) and integrated close to 40 minutes of previously unseen material that adds a lot of context to the doc’s most memorable moments. Ever wonder exactly why the band got into that melee on stage at the Viper Room in front of a lot of label bigwigs — hint: it involves sitars — or wanted to hear the original Dandy’s drummer Eric Hedford’s reason for leaving the band in his own words? Prepare to have those wishes granted.
The fact that they’re premiering the XX version two decades later at Sundance, right where it all started, only makes it that much more of a full-circle moment. Timoner remembers that when she was trying to get the film into shape so they could submit it to the festival, the first cut ran a little over five hours. “And I felt like: No, I couldn’t cut it down!” she says, sitting in a closed-off corner of the festival’s press office. “This has to be this long!”
“We set out to make the Hoop Dreams of music documentaries…” David adds.
“…And instead it was like, ‘Sorry, guys, it may have to be the Shoah of rock docs.’”
Timoner managed to get the film down to a three-and-a-half hours, eventually killing even more darlings and ending up with the 107-minute movie that played Sundance ‘04. But she still had the five-hour cut stored away. So when David went to edit what would become DIG XX (“I edited the original,” Ondi notes, “so now it was: Tag, brother. You’re it.”), he quickly went back to that initial marathon-length take. “I took the five-hour cut, set it up, and then I played the original on top of it,” he says. “That way, we could see what was already there versus what we might add. So there may be a scene that’s two minutes in the original, but there’s a 10 minute version in the five-hour cut. So let’s audition the longer scene and see what chunks make sense to slot in here.”
“We put everything on trial, basically,” Ondi adds. “We weren’t going to just use outtakes and stuff. The criteria was: Will this add something to the film? Does this change or add something to the story?”
DIG XX is, in fact, filled with extra bits and elongated sequences that make you rethink a number of key moments, and balances out the band vs. band equation a bit more. Taylor-Taylor still says, “I sneeze and hits come out,” but you now see his confidence played against Capitol undercutting band decisions and undermining things when The Dandys aren’t instantly minting them money. Joel Gion is still a cult-of-personality presence that doubles as Anton’s hard-partying confidante — he was always the doc’s breakout star — but his narration and the extra moments of him trying to defuse or joke his way out of crises fleshes out how crucial he was to BJM, and how frustrated he was by his friend’s self-destructive tendencies.
And then there’s Anton. The braintrust of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and the documentary’s black magus, Newcombe remains a case study in how to blow up a promising career in music, as well as a textbook example of how the genius that lets an artist pen banger after psychedelic banger might be the same thing that fuels their madness. Yet in this remixed version, he somehow comes off even more tragic than he does delusional. The up-and-down spirals seem more detailed and pronounced. The scene in which you get to meet his parents and understand how they’ve contributed to his damage is now accompanied by more of the song “The Devil May Care (Mom and Dad Don’t),” which allows the lyrics to spell out his feelings in no uncertain terms. It’s not pretty.
“I remember showing Doug Pray, who directed Hype!, an early cut,” Ondi says. “And his feedback was: ‘You’ve got great material here, but we don’t like your main character. He’s kind of an asshole.’ I realized that, well, they don’t like him because they feel like I don’t like him [and] the fact that I really loved and believed in Anton, but was so mad at him for blowing so many opportunities that my rage had made its way into the film. It was a good lesson for a young filmmaker to learn: I need to make people care for these subjects, and that caring starts with me. We thought a lot about that as we put XX together.”
The compassion in this new cut doesn’t undercut the many scenes of bad behavior, rock-star excess, self-defeating egotism, and descent into junkiedom. It simply underscores the fact that, 20 years later, the creators of DIG XX bring a new level of wisdom, understanding, and forgiveness to what they witnessed all those years ago. This version updates us as to what’s going on with these artists since the doc premiered: The Dandy Warhols are still touring and playing shows, Anton wrote the theme for Boardwalk Empire and appeared on an episode of Anthony Bourdain‘s Parts Unknown, and Joel has made solo albums and is a writer of short stories. A clip in the XX‘s coda actually shows The Dandy Warhols, the Black Angels, and BJM playing a number together in Austin last year. It also highlights snippets of a Melbourne gig shortly after that in which Newcombe is once again coming to blows with a bandmate.
As for the musicians themselves, their relationship with DIG remains complicated. Newcombe and Taylor-Taylor have both praised and lambasted the film in the press several times over since 2004; Newcombe hasn’t seen XX yet (“he’s sort of M.I.A. at the moment,” David says), yet his management has been reposting stuff from the film’s Instagram account. Ondi and David invited the bands to perform at the premiere’s afterparty. Some, like Dandy guitarist Peter Holmström, politely declined. “He said, ‘You don’t understand,’” David recalls. “‘We have to deal with the fallout of this film on a daily basis.’”
“It’s helped them build up fanbases, and I’m also sure their sick of answering questions about it,” Ondi says. “‘So what was it like?! Tell us about it!’ I once asked several of Anton’s girlfriends why he felt hostile toward DIG, and they said, ‘He writes the songs, he plays the instruments, he records the albums — and then you came along and made something bigger than all of that.’ I totally get it.”
Some musicians said yes, however, and a DIG XX supergroup featuring Warhols keyboardist percussionist Zia McCabe, original drummer Eric Hedford, and BJM’s Miranda Lee Richards were set to perform at Sundance after the film’s premiere on Tuesday. (Gion was scheduled to play with them but had to drop out after getting Covid. ) When they stopped by the interview, the subject of the film’s legacy and its impact on the bands came up.
“When the ‘rivalry’ spread to the fans, and suddenly the Jonestown team was saying something mean to us or Team Dandys was saying something mean to them — that’s when the film’s success felt like a negative thing to me,” McCabe admits. “I felt it got a little heavy-handed with some of the drama. I also understand that you have to create a story arc and kind of a good guy, bad guy scenario. But on a personal level: Yeah, I do still want to see more of the glory days of us in those studios together, sweating it out, and sleepless nights, and having it be our deepest, most creative moments.”
“Borrrrr-ing,” Hedford intones, to much laughter.
“Some of the darkest moments were left out and some of the peak moments were maybe also left out in order to stick to the story,” McCabe says. “You couldn’t capture everything, no matter how hard you guys tried! But so much time has passed, I just feel a nostalgia for it. It’s this thing that we experienced. Being at Levitation last Ocotber, with the Black Angels and Jonestown and us doing a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray”… there was a guy filming us and you could see him just being like, “What the fuck…” I think we all realized it was an integral moment. Like, this is still happening!”
“It’s like a crazy yearbook,” Hedford says. “But I feel really grateful that you guys captured all that, because I wouldn’t have been taking pictures. I wouldn’t have been writing notes. And I look at it and it’s just like, ‘Oh, time capsule.’ It’s wild. It’s kind of crazy. But it’s not scripted.”
“You guys said it the other day: bands are not usually filmed at this point in their career, this in-depth, because nobody will pay for it,” Ondi notes.
“And they’re not usually going to be there when the doc is done because they’ve fallen apart!” McCabe replies. “So thank you for making a time capsule for us.”
“I’ve been waiting 20 years for this thank you!” the director exclaims.
“You’re welcome!” Zia says. “You finally got it. It’s on the record now.”