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What's Fact and Fiction in Netflix's Mötley Crüe Biopic The Dirt?

Here's how the movie compares to the book

Liam Mathews

Netflix's Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt is based on a book by the same name by the band with ghostwriter Neil Strauss, who later wrote the pick-up artist memoir The Game. For the most part it's a very faithful adaptation. It has, of course, undergone much of the condensing necessary when adapting a book for film, and many of the anecdotes in the self-consciously outrageous book are too depraved to be shown on-screen, like the part about how the band members used to stick their own members into breakfast burritos to hide the smell of other women from their girlfriends. (The Dirt is a very crazy book!) But most of the wild scenes in Jeff Tremaine's movie really happened, according to Nikki and Tommy and Mick and Vince, and the movie is upfront about a lot of the stuff that's fudged -- shout-out to vanished manager Doug Thaler. Consider this your book-to-screen compendium of truth.

The structure. The movie changes perspectives every few scenes to be narrated by a different band member, their manager Doc McGhee (David Costabile), or record executive Tom Zutaut (Pete Davidson), a technique taken directly from the book. The book is written in a very conversational tone that lends itself to narration, which the movie borrows liberally. The effect is a little different in the movie, because the book is heavily devoted to cataloging the band's bad behavior. Every page feels like the sequence where Tommy Lee (Colson Baker) describes life on the road from his wobbly, drunken, pukey, tunnel-vision point of view.

The characters. The personalities of the band members square with how they present themselves in the book: Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth) is the visionary plagued by personal demons that turn him into an asshole; Tommy Lee is the goofy, impressionable kid who just wants to have fun but has a dark, violent side; Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon) is the cranky misanthrope whose age, chronic illness, and quiet form of alcoholism separates him from his drug-addicted, party-hearty bandmates; and Vince Neil (Daniel Webber) is the unknowable sex maniac. The biggest difference is in tone. The book's in-their-own-words style captures their relentless narcissism, which is sometimes obnoxiously cocky, sometimes pathetically self-loathing, and sometimes both at once. It also captures their disgusting misogyny and outright criminality. In the book they come off as lowlifes in a way that a biographical movie is unable to show, since the act of making a movie about them inherently mythologizes them. The Dirt has a hero's journey structure but no heroes.

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The opening scene. This is a SFW website, so I can't really get too graphic about what happens in the movie's opening scene between Tommy Lee and his lady friend with a certain aquatic ability. But many of the book's early pages are about Tommy's tumultuous relationship with a woman his bandmates cruelly nickname "Bullwinkle" and with whom Tommy will not break up because she can do that thing.

The first show. It seems unbelievable, but according to Vince, the band's show did break out into a brawl. "One meathead, in a black AC/DC shirt, hocked a loogey that landed on my white leather pants," Vince Neil Strauss writes. "Without even thinking, I leapt off the stage midphrase and put him in a headlock and started pummeling him." And then they won the crowd over.

Tom Zutaut. Pete Davidson doesn't look anything like the Elektra Records A&R guy who signed them to their first record deal, and the real story of how that record deal came about is much more complicated and arduous than the comically easy way it's portrayed in the movie. But Zutaut really did wear a rugby shirt. And Vince really did have sex with his girlfriend, which he found out about from Neil Strauss many years later. Tom's line, "Bottom line is don't ever leave your girlfriend alone with Mötley Crüe, ever. Because they'll f--- her," is true. They even f---ed each other's girlfriends. They were animals.


Tom Zutaut is in the center in the striped shirt

HarperCollins Publishers

Ozzy Osbourne. An Ozzy Osbourne biopic would be even crazier than The Dirt. The scene where Ozzy (Tony Cavalero) snorts a line of ants, licks up his own pee off the ground, and then laps up Nikki's pee really happened. He did stuff like that all the time. In the book, he didn't portentously warn the Crüe that they'd go "f---ing mad" if they pushed things too far before he did all that, though.

Tommy Lee. Tommy Lee really did punch his fiancée in the face for insulting his mother. It's bad in the movie, but it's even worse in the book. In the book, he knocks her teeth out. This leads to a moment of introspection about how out-of-control they're getting, and then they get even more out-of-control. The movie just moves on, leaving it up to the viewer to connect this sordid act to the ones that come later. The movie downplays how bad these guys actually were. It shows the ugly stuff, but it doesn't show it as ugly as it really was. It's weird to call a movie this much sex, drugs, and violence "sanitized," but it is.

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Razzle. Vince's car accident that killed his friend Razzle happened pretty much just like that, though. In the book, Vince's legal troubles and their impact on the band as a whole gets a much deeper dive, but the fact that Nikki never went to visit him in jail or in rehab due to his own worsening heroin addiction is true and very depressing. More on Vince later.

Nikki's addiction. The movie does a good job of showing how squalid and paranoid Nikki's heroin addiction made him. And according to him, he really was revived from overdose death with two adrenaline shots to the chest, though former Guns N' Roses drummer Stephen Adler disputes this.

Zombie Dust. The drug cocktail favored by Nikki and Tommy gets name-checked in the movie, but it doesn't get explained. The book has the facts: "A mix of Halcion, a nervous-system sedative, and cocaine, a nervous-system stimulant. Crushed and stored in vial. When consumed, keeps body awake but shuts brain off."

Vince Neil. The movie's biggest fictionalization is how it portrays Vince Neil's life. His first wife, Beth, and his second wife, Sharise, are composited into the character played by Leven Rambin, and his daughters get composited, too. When Vince's wife left in the movie, it was after he came home from the Dr. Feelgood tour, and their daughter left behind a note telling him she loved him. In the book, however, there's nothing about a note. Vince says that he came home in 1986 from serving his 19-day manslaughter sentence to find that Beth had left with their two-and-a-half year-old daughter Elizabeth and took everything in the house except Vince's Rolex and his Camaro Z28. This is the only time Elizabeth is mentioned in the book. Their exit from his life prompts Vince to slide deeper into hedonism and build a mud wrestling ring in the backyard (Vince loved to watch strippers mud wrestle) and befriend a coke dealer named Whitey. Vince was on probation for manslaughter due to drunk driving at this time. His daughter who died, Skyler, was with his second wife, and that happened in 1995. The Dr. Feelgood era/Vince quitting/his daughter getting sick/the band reuniting section of the movie happened over a much longer period of time than it felt like in the movie. Vince's relationship with his family in the movie is played to make him sympathetic in a way he is not in real life. The real Vince Neil has continued to drive drunk and assault women (sometimes in the presence of Nicolas Cage).

Cutting room floor. There are so many crazy things in the book that didn't make it into the movie. Their manager before Doc McGee and Doug Thaler was a guy named Coffman who would get drunk and have Vietnam flashbacks. He made some shady deals with the band's money and disappeared. At one point in the book, Tom Zutaut claims that he saw with his own two eyes how Nikki's dalliances in the occult led to knives actually flying around Nikki's house of their own accord, and Nikki got so scared that he changed "Shout with the Devil" to "Shout at the Devil." There's a misadventure in Japan where even relatively level-headed Mick Mars lost his mind, and Nikki was arrested for hitting an innocent bystander with a bottle of Jack meant for their tour manager. The Japan trip is a turning point in the book, but it would have felt like a subplot in the movie. It's fine that all this stuff didn't make the cut. The movie is 90 minutes of uncut debauchery and degradation as it is.

The Dirt is now streaming on Netflix.

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The Dirt

Jake Giles Netter