-MONTHLY FILM & TV REVIEW-
featuring: Dandy Warhols, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Genesis P-Orridge, and Greg Shaw
director: Ondi Timoner
108 minutes (15) 2004
widescreen ratio 16:9
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Jim Steel
This is the story of two bands that start out as friends and end up as enemies. The Dandy
Warhols have had hits and airplay and will be the more familiar of the two. They produce a
fine stoner drone (this is not a criticism), which is ironic as they are the more clean-cut
of the two bands. They have a reasonably stable line-up and are run by the business-minded
The other band is the Brian Jonestown Massacre (BMJ). Here they come: there's a guy who
looks like John Lennon (Matt Hollywood), here's a guy who looks like Mike Nesmith (Anton
Newcombe), and there's another guy who actually looks like Brian Jones (a short-lived drummer).
Then there's Joel Gion, but we'll come back to Joel in a little while. Anton is the driving
force behind the BMJ and throughout the film people are always talking about his genius. We
get to hear a song that sounds like the Velvet Underground's Heroin, or Dylan's The
Times They Are A Changing, but what we here most often is a familiar British 1960s' sound.
Oasis is mentioned, without irony, more than once. Irony, it must be said, is largely absent
from this film. Anton is, without doubt, very talented as his records will bear out, but he is
not a genius. Geniuses produce something new. He is driven, though, and his band has released
lots of quickly recorded albums on small labels. He is an artist, and we'll soon come to think
of him as a capital A.
Courtney also comes across as humourless, but at least he is not bloody-minded. However, he
is very manipulative and is as least as much to blame for the fallout as Anton. But, to begin
with, both bands are very close. They play on the same bills and frequently jam together in the
early years. There is talk of them trying to start a movement, and Anton enthuses over their plans
to build a studio together. However, they start to drift apart after the Dandys are signed to
Capitol. For one photo-shoot, the Dandys decide to try for a low-life look. They achieve this by
arriving at the BJM's house on the morning after it had held a party. Unannounced. The BJM are
nonplussed to say the least.
Then the Dandys write their first single for Capitol and Courtney plays a tape of it to Anton.
Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth is a great song, but Anton doesn't react at all.
The implication here is that Anton is jealous. However, soon after this we learn that the BMJ are
heroin abusers. Given that Anton later releases a song called Not If You Were The Last Dandy
On Earth, it is fairly safe to assume that he took the song as a personal slight. It should
also be point out that 'Junkie' was not the Dandy's first Capitol. Ondi Timoner recorded thousands
of hours of footage over seven years, and there are a few internal inconsistencies in the film
necessitated by the need to insert a coherent narrative structure while keeping the finished film
at a manageable length. The core of the film seems to be basically accurate, though.
During this, the BJM have a showcase for a major label in Los Angeles' Viper Room. This is
one of several big chances but it's a train wreck. The band can barely stand and Anton starts
haranguing the audience and the record executives (he also happens to have one of the most
annoying accents I have ever heard). Then a fight breaks out between band members on stage.
It's a jaw-dropping sight. Because of such occurrences, we get used to seeing the BJM's managers
developing a trademark thousand-yard stare as the film progresses.
Courtney, meanwhile, is whining about the video for 'Junkie'. He got the director (a fashion
photographer) that he requested, and Capitol spent $400,000 on it, but it makes them look like
a pop group. The record fails to chart in America. They start to make waves in Europe, though,
but the BJM can't even make it across America in a van without falling apart. So far it sounds
like a two-hour trek through the lives of some fairly unpleasant people and, as entertaining as
it all is, that is a fair description of a large part of the film. But there is a hidden gem in
here and its name is Joel Gion.
Joel is the tambourine player in the BJM. He reckons, early on, that he's been sacked dozens
of times. Not the most essential member in the line-up? Oh no-o-o. Without Joel there would
surely have been suicide or murder committed within the ranks of the BJM. He is one of life's
natural stream-of-consciousness comedians and has a permanent grin plastered over his face.
Your heart lifts every time he is on screen. It's his face you see on the DVD cover and, while
he may not be a musician or a songwriter, he's the star. Unself-conscious and refreshingly lacking
in ego, he's the reason you'd pick the BJM over the Dandys. When one of the BJM managers swings a
deal with TVT in New York, he flies Joel over to meet the executives. Anton, they claim, has an
ear infection and can't be present. Joel charms them and the contract is signed. Meanwhile, Anton
is stalking the Dandys. They have to take out a restraining order while he sends them shotgun
cartridges with their names written on them.
The film ends around 2003 with the Dandys riding high. Their hook-heavy Bohemian Like You
has stormed Europe through its use in a telephone commercial, they are selling shed-loads of
records, and they are playing festivals in front of tens of thousands of fans. They've just
built a studio and performance space with their royalties. The BJM, however, having wilfully
wrecked the TVT deal a long time back, finally disintegrated for good (although see the end of
the review). Even Joel has had enough and the grin has slipped from his face at last. Anton is
touring small clubs, still fighting with audience members and still getting arrested. Weirdly,
one senses that he is, beneath it all, happy: this is what he wants from life.
The only rock star to be interviewed in the documentary, outside of the two bands, is Genesis
P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle (misnamed Genesis P'Orridge in the film, for some reason). One
gets the feeling that Timoner seized an opportunity after bumping into him at a gig, but nowhere
is it mentioned that P-Orridge is a massive Brian Jones obsessive, which explains his interest
in a band that appropriated Jones' name. All of the audio for the live footage is recorded on
the camera mikes instead of being taken from the soundboard, so it isn't the greatest quality,
but there are a lot of studio recording overdubs on much of the film. There are 33 minutes of
additional footage, but aside from Joel demonstrating how to snort a Pixy Stick through its own
straw, it doesn't add much in the way of entertainment. The lengthy interview with Ondi Timoner
is pretty illuminating as she goes into the history and technical background of the film, and
it is worth paying attention to. There are also trailers for The Devil And Daniel Johnston,
Mayor Of The Sunset Strip,
Ramones: End Of The Century, and
Brothers Of The Head.
It's a remarkable film, and one wonders how Timoner was allowed to release it as it stands.
We can only assume that massive egos are blind. However, there is no doubt that it won't harm
the record sales of either group. Since the film's release, the Dandy Warhols have started making
inroads into the American top 100, and the Brian Jonestown Massacre have reformed and are touring
and recording again. The best news of all is that Joel rejoined them recently.