Sundance 2024: Ondi Timoner’s DIG! XX refreshes a cult classic that raises its historical value as a rock music documentary

Fifty, seventy and a hundred years from now, musicians and students of rock history will be studying and appreciating the catalogs of The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, thanks to the phenomenal documentary DIG! XX, directed by Ondi Timoner and co-produced with her brother David Timoner.

Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl called it the greatest documentary ever made about rock music. In the 145 minutes of this expanded, remastered and reimagined version, which was among the 40th edition anniversary features in this year’s Sundance Film Festival lineup, DIG! XX crystallizes the contemporary rock world and masterfully examines the crux of the clash between commercial aspirations and expectations and unconditional commitments to creating music that will thrive and withstand the forces of cultural lag time. 

The first version premiered at the festival in 2004. The film, which won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, has been updated to include new narration by The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Joel Gion and more than 40 minutes of never-before-seen footage.  

A still from DIG! XX by Ondi Timoner, an official selection of the 40th Edition Celebration Screenings Program at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Timoner, who is among the best known and accomplished directors of independent film whose work has been frequently presented at Sundance, has given rock music historians and archivists a priceless gift with this film. The 2004 and 2024 versions of the film now encompass more than 27 years of the unique, combative and contentious intersecting creative orbits of these two bands, who originally formed their relationship because of a mutual desire to eschew abiding the commercially driven standards of pretentious tastemakers in the music industry.

What is immediately impressive about this updated version is the endurance of the principal figures in both bands. Remarkably, all are still alive, which given some of the footage shown in the documentary, stands out as defying those who might have expected them to either have died or disappeared from the music scene.  

Both bands remain deep in the scene. Take the psychedelic group The Brian Jonestown Massacre, for example, which has 20 albums in its catalog. Touring Australia late last year, the band led by the quintessentially wild rock music artist Anton Newcombe had sold out show after show. But, then the tour ended abruptly, as yet another trademark onstage brouhaha involving the always revolving cast of musicians led to chaos. Some of the footage is captured in the film. Newcombe’s volatile behavior once again was on display, which viewers of DIG! XX will not find surprising.

Meanwhile, The Dandy Warhols, approaching the 30-year-mark in recording and performing, have recently changed up their sound, moving closer to the psychedelic rock palette of their long-time musical allies. Among the newest songs is The Summer of Hate, which singer Courtney Taylor, described in a statement published elsewhere as an “homage to the sounds of The Damned, The MC5 and probably a bit of the Stooges in there as well.” One of the band’s earliest hits that hit the charts before digital recording became the standard in studios was 2000’s Bohemian Like You, which came from one of their most popular albums Thirteen Tales [from Urban Bohemia].

In the 20th anniversary edition of the documentary, Timoner has added all sorts of wonderful bits which raise the value of the original cult classic. The 2004 version represented more than seven years of work, culled from 2,500 hours of footage and narrated by Taylor.

But, the enhancements for 2024 crackle and sizzle with fresh kineticism. The character portraits are enriched in their multidimensional dynamics, which makes it surprisingly easy to be egalitarian in empathizing with Newcombe’s whirling dervish viscerality just as much as with Taylor’s seemingly more grounded and pragmatic nature. Likewise, in the two decades that have elapsed, the new version gives the viewer enough to comprehend just why these bands have not faded into obscurity and will likely always be on the map for aspiring musicians and rock historians.

One of the best additions in this version is Joel Gion, who provides narration to augment Taylor’s commentary. Gion is The Brian Jones Massacre’s tambourine player but he also is marvelous in his delivery, pitched perfectly in timing his humor that oozes with the sense of irony one would expect in a historical film like this. And, Gion is no flake, as some might wonder based on the footage in the film. His book In the Jingle Jangle Jungle: Keeping Time with the Brian Jonestown Massacre (Rare Bird Books) will be available in late February. His candid unpretentiousness is so refreshing. Thus, Timoner now gives viewers parallel tracks of narration to get a 360-view of both bands,  separately and together. 

A still from DIG! XX by Ondi Timoner, an official selection of the 40th Edition Celebration Screenings Program at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Gion’s best outrageously hilarious moment comes when the band’s manager at the time (Michael Dutcher), worried that Newcombe could blow an impending recording deal, is desperate enough to risk breaking the law by having Gion go to New York City, with a fake ID as the frontman,in order to seal the contract. The scheme worked, as the executives bought the story that Newcombe could not travel because of a painful earache. 

Gion also provides direct commentary on a famous Viper Room fight that ended up becoming Amy Sherman-Paladino’s tribute on the Gilmore Girls. There are fresh scenes featuring Newcombe’s relationship with actress/fashion designer, Tara Subkoff, giving viewers a rare glimpse into the rambunctious frontman’s capacity to actually be a tender, loving individual. 

From The Dandy Warhols, the best scene documents Eric Hedford, the band’s first drummer, who quits because Taylor claims exclusive credit for writing the songs and refuses to share royalties with his fellow band members. This is about as realistic a scene could ever possibly be in these circumstances. Anyone in a band whoever has experienced a similar scenario will comprehend the exchange between Taylor and Hedford as utterly credible. 

Even for those who may have never heard a song from either band, DIG! XX is wholly accessible because Timoner and company have preserved a supremely honest, realistic and savvy chronicle of what life and career are like for fiercely independent musicians who either find a way to navigate the commercial waters of the industry or decide instead to remain unconditionally pure in ensuring their music will never suffer the taint of false tastemakers.

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