As tempest-in-a-teapot music documentaries go, Dig! is entertaining—especially if you like the good psychedelic-rock groups Brian Jonestown Massacre and/or the Dandy Warhols. Was it worth director Ondi Timoner spending seven years in the ’90s and ’00s portraying the transformation of these West Coast bands from BFFs to bitter rivals? Sort of. Dig! did win the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, after all.

In hindsight, though, Dig! might be most instructive as a snapshot capturing the last time two rock bands could make significant numbers of people care about their competitive streaks and chances of “breaking through.” Do any but the most manufactured rock outfits now harbor realistic desires to crack the Top 40? While their charismatic frontmen may have thought they were engaged in a Beatles vs. Stones death match, the actual reality wasn’t even Blur vs. Oasis. Think Chocolate Watch Band tussling with Strawberry Alarm Clock for a more accurate picture of Dig!’s scope.

Dig! compares and contrasts the Dandy Warhols—dubbed “the most well-adjusted band in America” by leader (and film narrator) Courtney Taylor-Taylor—against Brian Jonestown Massacre, SoCal hedonists led by messianic singer/songwriter Anton Newcombe. The latter’s peers consider him a genius, but he’s actually just a great pasticheur of classic and underground ’60s rockers and folkies (Their Satanic Majesties Request–era Rolling Stones, 13th Floor Elevators, electric Bob Dylan, the Byrds et al.).

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BJM’s volatility is extraordinary: Members fight onstage, frequently exit ranks (maracas/tambourine player Joel Gion claims he “quit 21 times, officially”), drug and drink prodigiously, fall afoul of the law, and find dozens of ways to sabotage their progress. They signed with big indie label TVT, but Newcombe got hooked on heroin before making the Strung Out in Heaven album, and lackluster sales ensued. On the other hand, Dandy Warhols eagerly inked a deal with Capitol and angled for the charts, even agreeing to shoot a $400,000 video for “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth” with David LaChapelle. They played before 100,000-strong crowds at European festivals, but America showed middling interest.

If nothing else, Dig! succeeds as a revealing glimpse of life on the road for rock bands, depicting the mundane and major ways the fragile fabric of sanity can fray. You root for BJM to triumph, as their members are more compelling—and more musically interesting—than the Dandys’, but neither side blows up commercially. Taylor-Taylor admits that BJM were always ahead of his band, for what it’s worth. Both acts went on to forgo traditional music-biz machinery and act more autonomously. Plot twist: Newcombe got his shit together, moved to Germany, and is making some of the best music of his career now.

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