“Selling my soul would be a lot easier if I could just find it” – Nikki Sixx.
Rock biopics have become a popular form of cinema once again. Entries in the genre can be quite hit-and-miss. Yet in my opinion, last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody, though factually incorrect, is a great movie and Rami Malek deserved his Academy Award win.
Now in 2019, Netflix have released The Dirt – the dramatised story of Mötley Crüe, based on their memoir of the same name. Like Bohemian Rhapsody, it has taken a long time to come to fruition. By all accounts, this took a turbulent twelve years in the making marred by personnel changes and creative arguments. With all four members still alive, the band is seeking to make sure what you see onscreen is what they want you to see – their version of events.
Those not initiated with what Mötley Crüe were at their height of fame are in for a shock to the system. Everything bad about music is personified. The Dirt features graphic depictions of sex and drug use (along with basically anything that it’s possible to get addicted to), set to very loud music. This was the band’s selling point, however.
Formed in Los Angeles in 1981, Mötley Crüe was the essence of 80’s hard rock and heavy metal. Made up of four highly motivated misfit wannabes – Nikki Sixx, Vince Neil, Mick Mars and of course Tommy Lee (played in the film by Douglas Booth, Daniel Webber, Iwan Rheon and a remarkably good Machine Gun Kelly) – they single-handedly opened the door for the MTV-generation of stadium rockers such as Guns N’ Roses and Poison. However, the stories of their off-stage antics have eclipsed the music they made in their heyday and even the 41 million records they sold.
Through the lens of director Jeff Tremaine (Jackass Movies), The Dirt tries its very hardest to glamorize sleaze. At times, it falls disappointingly short, coming across like a cocaine fueled Carry On movie. The film’s failure is the inconstancy of the characters, including Tony Cavalero as a dubious, comedic take on Ozzy Osbourne. They cannot be wild men and good fathers at the same time. It is a stretch too far and simply asks too much of the audience. The members of Mötley Crüe were horrible people at the time, who committed some pretty messed up acts. The efforts to make them endearing (most likely at the real-life band members’ insistence) simply don’t work.
That said, The Dirt’s saving grace is its underlying theme that excess leads inevitably to tragedy. The audience is not spared, nor does Tremaine bypass the out of control devastation that took center stage in the story of the band. Sixx died and was successfully resuscitated after a drug overdose. Vince Neil was responsible for the death of friend and Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas “Razzle” Dingley, who was the occupant in a car driven by Neil. He was charged with vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol.
Things got even worse when Vince Neil’s daughter Skylar died of cancer after months of pain at the age of four (included in the movie). The band mate threw himself into a self-destructive phase once again – this time worse than anything he had indulged in before. Tommy Lee, the quick-tempered drummer had a string of failed marriages along with assault charges and jail time for battery on Pamela Anderson. Luckily the timeline of the film ends before that particular home movie he made on a boat with then wife Anderson became a viral sensation.
Ultimately, fans of the band who understand Mötley Crüe and followed them through their career will adore this movie. People who watch The Dirt out of interest, not knowing all the elements will be less enamored. Having read the book on which the film is based, I feel the story is too huge to nail down into a 108-minute film. A documentary with narration by Nikki Sixx may have been a better approach.