Lots of DIRT on Motley Crüe

Commentary, Film and Television

Glam metal legends Motley Crüe finally got the cinematic treatment in this year’s The Dirt.

Directed by Jeff Tremaine, the biopic is an adaptation of their collaborative 2001 memoir of the same name. There was no shortage of material to adapt: Motley Crüe were as well known for their debauched off-stage behaviour as they were for their similarly sleazy brand of hard rock, and The Dirt is full of crazy stories, ranging from run of the mill drug-fuelled antics to Ozzy Osbourne snorting a line of ants.

The film moves at the efficient pace of a Broadway musical, chronicling the band’s rise and fall to a wicked soundtrack of eighties hair metal. Early Crüe tracks like underrated Too Fast For Love cut “Take Me to the Top” lend the film a youthful, hungry energy as we watch the young band work their way up from the Sunset Strip club scene; disintegrate (many times over) due to drugs and infighting; and inevitably reunite to remind the world how they got to the top to begin with.

Not to say it’s a purely lighthearted affair. The band members all had appetites for self-destruction, and seem to have spent most of their heyday on their own individual downward spirals.

A lot of the screen-time is devoted to Nikki Sixx’s troubled childhood and the heroin addiction that nearly killed him, as well as the tragedies that befell (or were in some cases caused by) singer Vince Neil. And of course, notorious drummer Tommy Lee (played with a hyperactive bro energy by Machine Gun Kelly) gets into all sorts of trouble of his own.

To be honest, I always found guitarist Mick Mars to be the most intriguing Crüe member. An old-school blues-rocker who reinvented himself as a hair metal demon, his cynical observations and frank discussions of his health problems (he was diagnosed with a degenerative bone disease as a young man, and struggled with alcoholism on top of that) were the best parts of the book.

His character is underused in the film, admittedly, but benefits from the ability of actor Iwan Rheon (who you likely won’t recognize from his turn as sadistic Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones) to capture his offbeat charisma. Despite his limited screen-time, he’s still one of the more compelling characters here. Significantly older (in music industry terms) than his bandmates and the most experienced musician of the bunch, he has little patience for their antics and occasionally breaks the fourth wall to call bullshit.

As much as these guys were reckless punks who epitomized toxic celebrity and rock star excess, they were also ambitious musicians desperate to achieve their dreams. Yes, their biggest hits were cheerfully trashy and gleefully vulgar, but they took their music seriously: it was all they knew how to do, and at their lowest moments, it was all they had.

Title: The Dirt

Director: Jeff Tremaine

Screenwriter: Rich Wilkes

Year: 2019

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