“The Dirt” (2019)
Running Time: 108 minutes
Written by: Rich Wilkes based on the book “The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band”by Neil Strauss, Tommy Lee, Mick Mars, Vince Neil and Nikki Sixx
Directed by: Jeff Tremaine
Featuring: Douglas Booth, Colson Baker, Daniel Webber and Iwan Rheon
Doc McGhee:“I have managed the Scorpions, Bon Jovi, Skid Row, KISS. I had been dragged through the deepest shit with all kinds of mentally ill people. But I have never been through what Mötley Crüe put me through.”
Released this month on the streaming service Netflix is a somewhat fictional movie based around some of the exploits of the hair/metal band Mötley Crüe, based on a book the band wrote that fits the legend they want people to believe, especially their fans. The movie of course features many of their most well known songs from the albums that are featured in “The Dirt” (2019). As far as rock biopics go it follows the kind of story one might expect, although with a four-piece band there is only so much time to go around for each of them so the majority of time is spent with Vince Neil and Nikki Sixx and to a lessor extent Tommy Lee. Even though this is movie contains a fair amount of nudity and coarse language it is surprising how sanitised it is, in fact it is more akin to a certain mockmentary (I will let you guess which one) than anything else which feels like a missed opportunity in terms of examining why the band were so successful especially following the Punk movement and preceding grunge, which is alluded to by a giant Pearl Jam poster briefly glimpsed in one scene. Musical genres can be fairly simple but how these develop, are sustained and ultimately how they fall out of favor is a fascinating one which would have been good to explore, instead we are left with a fairly juvenile narrative.
There can be no surprise that the best films about rock bands or music are either documentaries or are based around fictional subjects (although they are based on real people), there is a tendency when making movies about real people in the music business to either sanitise their past, create false narratives or to ignore peers as either influences or influenced on. There are exceptions of course such as the excellent “Sid and Nancy” (1986), “La Bamba” (1987), “24 Hour Party People” (2002) and “Control” (2007), all of these have at least one element in common, either something or someone special in front of or behind the camera, in some cases both. Unfortunately “The Dirt” ticks all of those negative boxes and more; it lacks any real bite instead opting to act on a thesis that just surviving the years of mental, substance and familial abuse is somehow a badge to be worn proudly, which to a certain extent is true, but not the extent here. Mötley Crüe were a band that got lucky with their main driver Nikki Sixx who was their centre and was responsible for their success through his song writing as well as Mick Mars who was a gifted guitarist and a drummer who had an eye for musical magic and a stage prescence in Tommy Lee. Why they were so successful is more complicated, this is glossed over here.
“The Dirt” (the movie) is one story of how the band Mötley Crüe rose from the streets of Hollywood to the heights of international fame in the 1980s.
“The Dirt” has been directed by Jeff Tremaine who is best known for co-creating and directing the entire “Jackass” oeuvre, he has also directed a forgettable comedy, so here he is attempting to stretch himself as well as create something that he will be able to launch a narrative directing career, unfortunately he has probably picked the wrong production even though I can see it may have been attractive on paper. It must be difficult to produce a movie like “The Dirt” where there have been multiple rock biopics before, especially in a year when something like “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018) has been released. The challenge is to make yours look, feel and sound original and to his credit Tremaine does what he can first and foremost with the soundtrack, which permeates the narrative, as it should. However whereas “Bohemian Rhapsody” had a very good cast (now an Oscar winner), a relatively large budget and some very good talent behind the camera (I am counting Bryan Singer), “The Dirt” pretty much lacks all of that, which again feels like a missed opportunity. Sure the direvtor attempts to spice things up with scenes of debauchery but it all seems like ‘been there, done that’ before, a little worn out at this stage. In fact there is nothing new in this movie at all, considering what it is trying to reveal, that is a heavy metal band that made some good music as well as were legendary hellions, if anything the movie feels like a narrative version of Tremains own “Jackass”.
In terms of the cast which is made up of a number of young actors who all have very limited onscreen experience and it shows as they all seem a little vapid to be playing men who not only lived hard but were unique among their own peers, one need only look at their real life counterparts that we see in the closing credits, the credibility gap is only increased. In fact the most experienced and possibly best member of the cast is Iwan Rheon who has made a career of playing either closed off charctares or ones with major personality flaws, here in portyaing Mick Mars he does both, in limited onscreen time but stands out even more for it.
“The Dirt” also, of course, uses a number of songs from Mötley Crüe as one would expect which are either heard over the top of scenes or we see them lip synced in recreations of concerts mainly through the 1980s. What I found jarring was the use of the music over scenes before the actual songs were written which was either an error or was intentional, either way it confuses the timelines for fans of the band. Linked to this is the way the movie almost ignores the importance of Mötley Crüe as a band that made albums that were all mostly good and how they changed the sound of the band right up to their biggest success ‘Dr. Feelgood’ (1989) which became difficult for them to not only follow up critically but also was the groups commercial nadir.
The one aspect that is glossed over but is in fact one of the more unique as well as important aspects of the movie is how Nikki Sixx was able to leverage the record company into handing over the publishing rights (i.e. ownership of the Mötley Crüe music) so that he was the one that would benefit from the work carried out to that time, something many artists would kill for. Some explanation as well as pointing out to audiences how unusual this was would have been a benefit to the movie.
I understand why the more colourful stories are relied on to carry this movie, at times they are fun as well as shocking but it comes at the expense of what could have been a decidedly interesting story. I would have loved something a little deeper but if this is how the band wants to see itself and they have the power to do it then that is up to them. However if you want to enjoy and explore a document of the time then I suggest the excellent documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988), that has everything missing from “The Dirt” and more.
‘The Dirt’ Soundtrack:
01. “The Dirt (Est. 1981)” (feat. Machine Gun Kelly)
02. “Red Hot”
03. “On With The Show”
04. “Live Wire”
06. “Take Me To The Top”
07. “Piece Of Your Action”
08. “Shout At The Devil”
09. “Looks That Kill”
10. “Too Young To Fall In Love”
11. “Home Sweet Home”
12. “Girls, Girls, Girls”
13. “Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)”
14. “Kickstart My Heart”
15. “Dr. Feelgood”
16. “Ride With The Devil”
17. “Crash And Burn”
18. “Like A Virgin” (Madonna cover)