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Dig! Reviews

There's rock-star misbehavior, and then there's the misbehavior of Anton Newcombe, the mad, bad and downright dangerous songwriting genius who fronts the San Francisco-based band the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Keith Moon and John "Bonzo" Bonham may have destroyed hotel rooms, but Newcombe trashes his bandmates — 40 musicians have reportedly passed through the ranks of the BJM since Newcombe founded the band in 1991 — audience members and his own already fragile psyche. Blessed with one of the greatest band monikers ever, the BJM steeps the sounds of Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds and the Stones in the grimy drug-soaked drone of the Velvet Underground. Though longtime darlings of both the music press and industry insiders — their uncannily accurate retro sound appeals to older critics, trendy A&R reps and other bands who flat-out worship them — no major label will touch them: Newcombe's difficult personality and often-violent onstage antics have made anything but underground cult status well-nigh impossible. Ondi Timoner's luridly gripping documentary captures it all on tape. Timoner found the wherewithal to follow the band for seven long years, documenting heavy drug use (heroin appears to be Newcombe's preferred poison), onstage melees (the punch-up at the Viper Room is a doozy) and manic tantrums that often end in someone getting smacked, kicked or, in the case of long-suffering guitarist Matt Hollywood, bitten. What raises Timoner's movie above mere car-crash voyeurism, however, is her focus on the rising fortunes of Portland-based foursome the Dandy Warhols (Dandys' front man Courtney Taylor serves as the film's narrator), fellow scenesters whom Newcombe once considered soul mates. When the Dandys sign to a major label and appear in a $400,000 video, the friendship suddenly takes a turn for the nasty. Newcombe consistently claims to value his position as a truly independent rocker, but his obsession with the Dandys' success is bizarre; not content simply to write songs about them, he bad-mouths them in the press and has personalized shotgun shells delivered to their door. The Dandys, meanwhile, clearly covet the BJM's cult cachet and crazed, smacked-out lifestyle; no moment is more telling than the impromptu Dandy Warhols photo session Taylor stages at the BJM's totally trashed, ramshackle house. It's a fascinating film that manages to touch on subjects as diverse as mental illness and what's wrong with the record industry, set to brilliant music by the one of the best bands you've probably never heard.