The Dirt (The Mötley Crüe) - A Critique on ZANI

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The Dirt is a biographical and at times comedy-drama of the American glam heavy metal band, The Mötley Crüe.  Based on The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band, by writer Neil Strauss, the Mötley Crüe themselves, drummer Tommy Lee, guitarist Mick Mars, vocalist Vince Neil and bass player Nikki Sixx.   

As well documented The Mötley Crüe rose from the Los Angeles live music scene in 1981, to achieve phenomenal global success, spanning four decades. The original members of The Mötley Crüe are still going strong today and due to the success of The Dirt, record sales are booming, and venues are selling out.

On their journey, The Mötley Crüe caused mayhem and mischief which often overshadowed their music. Yet for me, their ‘1001 smashed motel rooms’ mentality in the 80s, didn’t appeal to me, due to my music sensibilities at the time, The Style Council, The Smiths, The Redskins, The Cult, American sixties and seventies soul and such like, coupled with me and my associates not being their target market.  But I get it, delinquency can be appealing especially when you’re young, handsome, living the dream with a penchant for hedonistic lifestyle and beautiful women. Yet as the 80s were drawing to a close, the youth, myself included, of Great Britain were certainly developing taste buds for MDMA, due to the expansion of Acid House, that would have made us feel right at home at a Mötley Crüe backstage party.

The Mötley Crüe caused mayhem and mischief

The Dirt begins with Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth; The Riot Club, The Limehouse Golem) narrating at a party at his apartment in LA, introducing  the viewers to Tommy Lee (American rapper and actor, Machine Gun Kelly/ Colson Baker; Bird Box, Nerve), Mick Mars ( Iwan Rheon; Misfits, Inhumans) and Vince Neil (Daniel Webber; Thumper, 11.22.63).  The party is a gross and vulgar affair, yet it is setting the tone of what lays ahead in the film.

After the opening party, there is a flashback to an adolescent Nikki Sixx, (then called Frank Carlton Serafino Feranna Jr), sitting in his bedroom strumming on an unplugged electric guitar, to the backdrop of Bowie and Bolan posters, whilst his mother is bringing a new man into the house for the umpteenth time. Making Sixx fake an attack by his mother with a flick knife, resulting with him going into care, as his mother faces a custodial sentence, as a life to the young Sixx in social services is more appealing than living with his mother, and the only thing, that gives him solace is music.

Fast forward to the happy go lucky teenager, Tommy Lee, dressed in his sister’s tight leopard skin trousers, with drum sticks in the back pocket. Heading out of his parents’ home on a date to see his favourite band London, which Sixx is the bass player, at the Whisky a Go Go, Sunset Boulevard. The band London are still active today and had future members of Guns and Roses, Izzy Stradlin and Slash, as well as members of W.A.S.P. and Cinderella plying their trade with them. I am sure the success of The Dirt, will only increase their fan base.  

After the gig at a nearby diner, Lee with his date, sees his hero Sixx sitting alone. The nervous and star-struck Lee approaches Sixx, leaving his beautiful companion on her own. Sixx and Lee get talking and agree to form a band. Soon they are holding auditions for a guitarist.

First, there is an overweight yet jolly hippy type rhythm guitarist jamming with Sixx and Lee. I am led to believe that the guitarist is loosely based on Mötley Crüe’s original lead singer Greg Leon, even though he is never mentioned in the film. Yet the portly and nice hippy is soon overshadowed and booted out by the arrival of the more mature guitarist, Micky Mars, who placed an advert with the Sunset Strip rag Recycler, offering his services, ‘Loud, rude and aggressive guitar player available’. Mars’ copy certainly appealed to Lee and Sixx. Unknown to his new band members Mars is suffering from ankylosing spondylitis, a disease that seizes the bones together.

At the time of The Mötley Crüe formation in 1981, Micky Mars had just turned 30, still young but seen as a veteran as Sixx was in his early 20’s, whilst Lee was only 19.

The Mötley Crüe formation in 1981

Sixx, Lee and Mars know they are onto something good. All they need now is a front man. Lee recommends his old High School friend Neil, 20, at the time, as a possible singer. The trio track Neil down at a local pool party, where his band are belting out rock ‘n’ roll classics to party goers on a hot summer’s day.  The trio persuades Neil to audition, which he does the following day, with his arrogant but beautiful girl in tow. Instantly there is chemistry….

Of course, the above is a slightly romantic and fictional account of the origin of The Mötley Crüe. Nevertheless, you have to have some form of artistic licence in telling a complex story in under two hours, such as forming a band, which can be a long drawn out and tedious process. By many accounts, Neil failed to show up for his first audition, yet would that make interesting viewing? The viewer wants to see the story unfold quickly that are inspired by real events.

Jeff Tremaine, the seasoned director of The Dirt, a specialist in madcap and prank film making, Jackass: The Movie, and their sequels and Bad Grandpa, pushes throughout The Dirt, the narrative that we are watching a film, not real life, by making the actors break the fourth wall. A method that has its origins in the theatre, where an actor would pause from the drama to speak to the audience. Think Machiavellian Tory politician Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson; Bleak House, Private Schulz,) from the original British version of House of Cards, where Richardson, would tell the viewers, with much delight of his skulduggery. In The Dirt, be it Lee, Sixx or whatever character, will often ask if this really happened to the viewer. This approach about questioning the authenticity of events was highly used by director Michael Winterbottom in 24- Hour Party People, another music biog about Manchester’s Factory Records founder and maverick Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan, Alan Partridge, Stan & Ollie), the man who signed Joy Division, The Happy Mondays and many more. Educated guess Tremaine was influenced by the style of 24-Hour Party People for The Dirt, as it reminds me of Winterbottom’s film, and I say that as a compliment.  

Machine Gun Kelly, Daniel Webber, Douglas Booth & Iwan Rheon as The Mötley Crüe in The Dirt

As mentioned, Tremaine has a comedy background, which he puts to good use throughout The Dirt, as there is laugh out loud scenes, along with tragic and triumphant acts. This is the story of life, and all of us lead eventful lives, maybe not as mad as The Mötley Crüe, but that takes some doing, and not all of us want that lifestyle.

Some of the reviews have criticised that The Dirt is glorifying their once bad boy and high-living lifestyle, to the point that some of the reviewers are taking the moral high ground.  But what The Dirt does is to capture the excitement you experience when you first partake in drugs. Yet as the film progresses it shows how frequent drug usage will make your life spiral out of control. I wouldn’t say The Dirt is a cautionary tale, nor does the film present The Mötley Crüe as nice people during this period, and by their own admission, they weren’t. However, they were four outsiders, Sixx; the thinker, Lee; the joker, Mars; the wise man and Neil, the lover, my word The Mötley Crüe sound like the four personalities of Jimmy the Mod from The Who’s Quadrophenia. Yet with their drive, bond, talent and determination they achieved and maintain success, despite many setbacks.

I found The Dirt a powerful, funny and at times a poignant film, intensified by the strong performances of Booth, Machine Gun Kelly/ Baker, Rheon and Webber. All four clearly relish and understand the complexity of their roles, as not only did they understand their characters, these four talented actors also had to enhance their musical skills, which gives the film more depth and credibility.

As mentioned at the start of this article, I wasn’t a fan of The Mötley Crüe, due to reasons stated earlier. Nonetheless, due to broadening my horizons and life experiences, I did warm to them. I didn’t like some of their antics, but there again I could be a terror back in my day, but I was inspired by their ambition to make their dream come true and to keep the dream alive. In a final summery of The Dirt, I think Nikki Sixx’s words are the finest, ‘It's not just sex, drugs and car crashes. Those things happen – and, in our case, more than usual. But what's at the core of it all is the creativity and the personal relationships between each band member.

The Dirt out now on Netflix

Read 1657 times Last modified on Tuesday, 09 April 2019 17:59
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