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Motley Crue - The Dirt

The Dirt Movie

"They never found a way to break us down, that's why we're still around"
Mötley Crüe - The Dirt - 2019

Today is 22 March 2019 – the day that Crüeheads have been waiting so many years for: the release of The Dirt, a globally available Netflix original movie.

When author Neil Strauss was finalising The Dirt book, he asked me for some assistance, so I provided him with a sixx-thousand-word analysis of his manuscript – hence the shout out to me in the bestseller. I then provided a similar analysis to screenwriter Rich Wilkes as he was finishing his movie script. That was 14 years ago, with lots of doubt since, that this movie would ever get made. For this movie to see the light of day seems like a miracle in some ways – another miracle being that all four members have somehow made it through alive and are still with us today.

Producer of The Dirt, Erik Olsen reached out to me in the days before Christmas 2017, as they were prepping to shoot the movie in a few months time. He said he wanted to pick my brains, so we chatted on the phone, and although I was ready to provide further assistance to the team, it turned out they didn't need any more from me. Fast-forward to today, and Mötley Crüe's biopic is finally being released to the world.

This opinion piece is for the true fans of the band – the Crüeheads – for it's us that know and love the World's Most Notorious Band the most. But remember, opinions are like assholes: everyone has one. So I expect there'll be heaps of The Dirt movie reviews that you read, and some will surely stink. One thing is for sure though: the movie version of our band's compelling and unbelievable history contains a trove of factual occurrences and subtle nuances that help to make it a truly awesome film, along with other aspects that may bother you though. So let's dig in…

The movie opens with a rapid-fire look at some of the happening trends of the 1980s. These retro snippets let us know that what we are about to experience is set in a very different time period than 2019. The message "based on a true story" is then displayed on screen. The key word here is "based" so you should not expect an extremely accurate account of the band's history – Chronological Crue has already documented that for you! This is showbiz, folks… entertainment. It's a Hollywood movie, filmed in New Orleans, with actors – it's not another documentary, and doesn't star the band members themselves in the lead roles. Shortcuts simply have to be taken to compress their crazy history into this 1hr 47min 23sec film.

Following a sold-out concert at the famous Whisky a Go-Go, the camera provides a first-person view of walking to their usual after-party: crossing N Clark St and up the hill a little to the band's apartment. Directionally, this is accurate, even though "The Mötley House", the band's 2-bedroom apartment financed by their first manager, was actually a little further along at 1140 N Clark St (not at 1124 as so many websites purport – fake news.) The Whisky we see is a fantastic representation of the famous venue's facade on Hollywood's Sunset Strip, especially considering the building used is actually just a remodelled café in New Orleans called The Munch Factory.

Once inside The Mötley House, we are introduced to the band members – Tommy Lee first, and then Nikki Sixx. It's at this point we understand the narration we've been hearing is the voice of Nikki's character, played by 26-year-old English actor Douglas Booth. Knowing Nikki's voice extremely well after hearing it so much over decades now, it's difficult for me to appreciate this is him at this point, even though the footage of him lighting himself on fire visually helps. At least Booth's voice has an American accent, not English.

We then meet Vince Neil played by Aussie actor Daniel Webber, while he has bathroom sex in doggy style, as her boyfriend stands outside the door like a virgin wondering what's going on (Webber also nails the American accent.) And lastly we meet Mick Mars, lying on top of a bed like he's in a coffin (reminding me of him in the band's video clip for If I Die Tomorrow), and wanting no part of the debauchery that's going on in the rest of the house, nor the advance from a bikie chick (played by Tommy Lee's new wife Brittany Furlan.) The short narration that simply calls Mick an alien is perfect – a case of less is more.

This introductory scene inside The Mötley House concludes with Tommy finishing giving (consenting) oral sex to an excited woman we know from the book as Bullwinkle. While Red Hot plays in the background, she orgasms and squirts across the room. It's equal parts comedy and shock value, and is certainly based on the said capabilities of Tommy's girlfriend Lisa of the time.

We're only 2 minutes into the film as THE DIRT title is displayed, and already a lot of Mötley history has been crammed in, while we've also been accurately introduced to the character traits and personalities of the four band members – "a gang of fucking idiots" who aren't too high and mighty to poke fun at themselves. This is the kind of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll opening that Crüeheads were hoping for… me too.

From here though, I'm not going to give you such a blow-by-blow account of each scene in the rest of the movie… for there is A LOT of blow in this movie!

I watched the movie through twice before writing this article in the weeks before its release, and what stands out to me most overall is Mötley Crüe's determination to succeed against all odds, as the band rises and lives fast through the 1980s. The film's main time period is focussed on this decade of excess. It's an engrossing tale of survival and success through major adversities in their young lives, compounded by their own misgivings. They rise quickly and crash and burn, but learn and go on with the show.

The real-life traits of the four band members are well portrayed by the actors, while their characters focus on key aspects for the sake of the condensed story:

We get an insight into Nikki's troubled childhood and broken relationships with his parents Frank Feranna Sr. and Deanna Richards. We see him spiral down with his heroin addiction and temporary death from overdose, and eventual redemption.

Showing that he came from a more normal and loving upbringing in Covina, California, Tommy's hopeless romantic character then focuses more on the theme of celebrity marriage, with spousal abuse being his darkness.

Along with his constant womanising, two sad deaths and their subsequent fallout are the main incidents for Vince. The first is the car crash when his passenger  friend (Hanoi Rocks' drummer Razzle ) dies, and he does some jail time for vehicular manslaughter. The second is when his four- year-old daughter Skylar dies from cancer a decade later.

Mick is a more subdued character, just like in real life, and his degenerative bone disease (or curse, as he calls it) Ankylosing Spondylitus is the primary concern for his character, along with having to put up with all the stupid shit from his younger band mates.

The toughest thing for me to acclimatise to throughout the film is the actors who play the four band members. Having studied, researched, and written about Mötley Crüe's decadence over the last two decades more than anyone else in the world, I feel I know their characters so well; their look and voices are of course instantly recognisable to me. Therefore, at times, it can seem like the actors are imposters – like a pretend or fake Mötley sporting bad wigs and dress-ups, lacking the unique rock star swagger of the true Crüe; evoking a tribute band of sorts.

I see a lot of hairstylists listed in the credits, but I said bad wigs because I feel there's jus
t not enough lift through the crown on their shag hairdos much of the time, particularly with Nikki. Maybe supplies of Aquanet are still depleted from when they were the shag kings in the '80s, or perhaps they didn't want to overdo the hair height like Vince's on the back of the white-lettered first pressing of Too Fast For Love on Leathür Records, but this honestly takes me some getting used to.

It's no diss on the actors though, as I think they really do a tremendous job overall. As much as the casting believability is hard to get used to at times, I think it really was the impossible task to get it perfect, especially for diehards. When I think back to recently watching the actor who played Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, I felt there was a lot of times that he didn't look like or evoke Freddie to me, even though there was lots of times where I thought he was the spitting image – and he just won a Best Actor Academy Award for it. So I try not to let it bother me, and just sit back and enjoy the story.

What I love about these main four actors though, is how they have captured their characters' personalities. In the lead-up to the movie, I saw some stills of Iwan Rheon smiling as Mick, but was particularly relieved that his character turns out to be just as dark, cynical, and dry-humoured as the real Mick I've been fortunate enough to experience first-hand. I do think Iwan looks most like Mick in the doctor's room scene when he was red-haired Bob Deal with a moustache.

Fans have voiced concerns over a rapper playing Tommy Lee, but I think the gangly Colson Baker aka Machine Gun Kelly was a super choice and does a phenomenal job; he's probably the strongest of the four for me overall – e ven down to his cigarette smoke antics. I see that so many of his fans are exploring Mötley now, opening up a new audience for the band.

I was expecting the movie to be gritty and confronting, and it thankfully is. After the opening, we are taken back into some violent incidents of Nikki's childhood when he is still named Frank. Vince Mattis who plays teenage Frank is very strong; he's a badass kid exuding the right attitude for the role. (I also love the choice of T-Rex's Solid Gold Easy Action that he jams to, along with the New York Dolls, Bowie and Kiss posters and records in his bedroom.)

The young girl Kamryn Ragsdale who plays Vince's daughter Skylar also does a tremendous job, giving us a heart-wrenching scene while lying on her hospital bed. I didn't expect these couple of high-impact moments to be delivered by such young actors.

Speaking of confronting moments, the drug use in the movie is also very real. Sure we see big bongs being smoked in the first Mötley House scene and Rockandi pool party scene, but it doesn't take long for things to escalate with lines of glamourised cocaine being snorted off bodies and silver trays, to the in-your-face close-ups of heroin fixes being tied-off and injected. The camera doesn't pull away as the needles go all the way in and out, even if you're squirming. (I love the cinematic version of Live Wire sung by Megan 'Shahnaz' Kabir that plays during Nikki's heroin scene in 1987.)

There were a couple of goosebump moments for me on first watch: the first came when the band forms and they get the song Live Wire right – I could feel the ignition of the chemistry or "weird electrical humidity" that is these four playing together. The second was when Nikki overdoses and changes his answering machine message to say, "I'm not home because I’m dead" as the Johnny Thunders song You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory plays.

Back to the formation of the band though, and whilst not entirely accurate, I feel these scenes do give a great sense to fairweather followers of how it all came together. For example:

Tommy actually met Nikki in the Denny's diner for lunch, accompanied by his friend Joey Vera, whereas in the movie it takes place at night after a London gig, and Tommy is with his girl. The Denny's sign on the door and menus are a nice touch that hardcore fans may notice.

Mick's best friend John 'Stick' Crouch drove him to audition at Nikki’s North Hollywood house, in his burgundy 1971 Mazda RX-3 coupe, whereas the movie shows Mick drove himself. His amp hanging out the back of the vehicle though is another correct little detail that's awesome.

We see the dowdy rhythm guitarist Robin bumbling through Live Wire and it's accurate in the way Mick fires him and he leaves in tears. However, there's no mention of the white-gloved singer Odean Peterson who had just signed on with the band and was soon fired as they began recording – I guess he burnt that bridge when he filed a small claims lawsuit against them soon after.

The day-time backyard party scene with Vince singing in Rockandi is great, but even though that band used to play backyard parties, his soon-to-be new band members actually saw him perform one night at the Starwood, and then cornered him in the club's bathroom with an approach to join them. Being called a "blonde-haired bitch" is accurate though, and it's a cool version of Billy Squier's My Kinda Lover that we hear him singing (vocals by Timmy Cherry), although Cheap Trick's He's a Whore would have been better from a historical standpoint. Vince then being driven to the audition by his girlfriend Lovey (Leah Graham in real life and played by Katherine Neff) in her red car is certainly accurate enough.

The scene where they come up with the name Mötley Crüe shows just the four band members present, whereas this took place during a BBQ at Nikki's place on 5 April 1981 and other people were there. XMAS was indeed the best name they had (first I've seen it with double-S though), until Mick offered up Motley Crew – a band name that he had first thought of in 1976.  By the way, you may recognise the blue-labelled beers they are drinking as Löwenbräu, which provided an inspiration for the umlauts in the band's name. This is a great touch that only dedicated Crüeheads will pick up on. Another moment here is the band name The Four Skins that Tommy's character suggests. This was added as a cool nod to when the Crüe played a secret warm-up club show at London's Marquee as The Foreskins on 14 August 1991.

So like with all these scenes in the movie, all the minute details can be analysed, scrutinised, and nit-picked, but it's fair to say that by-and-large, the Producers and Director have done a fantastic job of portraying the formation of the band.

The band's first gig took place at the Starwood just 19 days later. While I've never heard that Tommy knocked over his cymbal stand as they were to begin, I think it's just a device to show how green they were, since the band had never run through a full set in rehearsals before, and didn't know the set list until Nikki taped a handwritten sheet of paper to the stage floor at the last minute, which we do indeed see in the film. Whilst the handwriting of the set list certainly resembles Nikki's usual scrambled mix of upper and lower case lettering, the songs listed are not exactly what was played at that show. When Vince asks Nikki if he thinks there's going to be anyone out there in the crowd tonight, this is something that Vince has actually talked about on camera in the past. Nikki putting the black makeup stripes under his eyes didn't actually happen until their New Year's Evil show at the end of 1982 though, but I think it's a useful device to help with character recognition for viewers.

The fight that ensues during their first gig when Vince is spat on is the stuff of legend. This is accurate so far as the tale was told over many, many years, however it was actually a publicity tactic that worked well for the band in the early years. The girlfriend of Randy Piper from W.A.S.P. was hired to film the shows from the club's balcony, and the black and white video of the Crüe performing twice that night can be watched on YouTube, sans fight scene.

The Looks That Kill video-shoot and live concert footage shown over the years really is done incredibly well. Sure, I doubt there was a stage-diver during their sold-out show at the Whisky when Zutaut first saw them play, gearheads will pick that some of their guitars are not 100% accurate, and they used less pyro in their Shout At The Devil concerts, but the stage clothes and sets are brilliantly re-created. The big concert scenes were filmed at UNO Lakefront Arena in New Orleans – a venue that the Crüe actually played during their '84, '85, '87, '90, and '05 tours.

One of the endearing qualities of The Dirt book, is that each band member told their own version of events, which sometimes contradicted each other. We get a taste of this in the movie too when Doc McGhee and Doug Thaler become their managers, and Mick's character says that it actually didn’t happen this way – Doc never came to The Mötley House. Whilst this is easy enough to digest and the culling of one manager doesn't harm the storyline, there is one condensed aspect that is likely to jar far more on hardcore fans: Vince's wives and daughters.

Now, I'm sure you can appreciate that each of our four band members have all had multiple wives and divorces, and multiple children, so to give us a compelling storyline containing them all is like trying to fit a big square peg into a small round hole. Taken from Vince and Sharise too soon by cancer, Skylar's short life is the one of all the children that is the most impactful on the overall story of Mötley Crüe.

As we see in the movie, it's true that Vince's wife was five-months pregnant at the time of his car crash on 8 December 1984. However, this was his first wife Beth Lynn, whom he married in January 1983, and gave birth to their daughter Elizabeth in April 1985. The movie makes us think it is mud-wrestler Sharise, played by Levin Rambin, whom Vince didn't meet at the Tropicana until August 1986. Their daughter Skylar was then born in March 1991 and lost her cancer battle in August 1995, so there's no way Skylar could have visited Vince before a show on the Theatre of Pain tour, as we saw. Whilst I'm sure no disrespect is intended to any of these ex-wives or children, I can appreciate why they have condensed these occurrences in this way for the sake of the storyline.

Given Tommy’s high profile marriage to Pamela Anderson that provided paparazzi tabloid fodder at supermarket checkouts through the '90s, I was somewhat surprised that she does not feature in the film though. Again, I presume this was done for the sake of sticking to the key story elements for each of the characters given all the constraints, rather than it being left out for any other specific reason. One famous wife is enough to make the point.

Tommy did serve some jail time for spousal abuse when with Pamela, and we get a look at this topic in the movie when we see him hit his first wife Roxy (that's a character name; she was actually Elaine Starchuk, aka Candice Starrek) while driving across middle America in their tour bus. This is after she stabs him in the back with a pen and won't stop calling his mother foul names, instigated by Tommy's mother previously calling her a groupie. The scene conveys their tumultuous three-month marriage fine in the story line, but fans have previously been told the stabbing took place in their kitchen with a butter knife after she was convinced he was having an affair. The punch to her mouth that knocked a cap off her tooth actually took place a little later in a limo ride to Wrestlemania, when she riled Tommy by incessantly calling his mother foul names, after she recently called her Lisa (Bullwinkle), which was the name of his previous girlfriend.

Rebekah Graf is very well cast as actress Heather Locklear, who becomes Tommy's wife. The resemblance is especially striking during the wedding scene. Tommy didn't actually meet Heather at Vince's house in Redondo Beach as the movie shows, but he did mistakenly think she was actress Heather Thomas. It's interesting that Heather returns serve by saying Tommy is in Whitesnake, since their videos featured Tawny Kitaen, whom Heather actually warned Tommy to steer clear of in fear of a looming affair.

After seeing the movie's trailer, I know some fans were upset that Vince crashed a red Corvette instead of a red Ford Pantera. It also crashes into a blue car instead of a white Volkwagen. I understand this was done simply due to the movie's budget constraints. R.I.P. Razzle.

The team also did splendidly with replicating the Crüe's tattoos on the actors, as their ink was added to so much over the years. No easy feat for Colson Baker playing Tommy, since so much of the actor's body is tattooed and TBone wore the least amount of clothing. Sure his tribal backpiece we see appears a bit smaller than Tommy's, but the most noticeable miss in the tattoo department for me is Nikki's bare chest in the 1987 overdose jab scene - it's missing the rose and keys tattoo on his right chest that we saw him getting in the band's Uncensored home video released in 1986. Perhaps they felt this would have distracted from the jabs and subsequent bruising.

Ozzy Osbourne's character, played by Tony Cavalero, is also entertaining and engaging. The poolside scene captures the gross ant-snorting and piss-licking antics that took place in Lakeland, Florida on 22 February 1984. Like the opening squirting scene, this provides both comedy and shock, something that Director Jeff Tremaine is accustomed to through his past experiences as the Co-Creator and Director of Jackass. The great scene where a mirror breaks over David Lee Roth also falls into this category.

Saturday Night Live comedian Pete Davidson acts as the band's Elektra Records A&R man Tom Zutaut. While his clothing style is on point, he probably bears the least similarity to the actual character of them all to me. This further stands out when the real Tom Zutaut cameos alongside his actor during a backstage scene where Nikki negotiates the rights to the band's music.

Speaking of cameos, did you notice the extras that resemble Steven Adler (without a plaster cast on his arm) and Slash from Guns N' Roses in the Franklin Plaza Hotel room when Nikki's drug dealer shoots him up and he OD’s? Producer Erik Olsen also cameos as a radio creep during Tommy's 'A Day In The Life Of' scene, right after he punches Zutaut in the balls. He asks Tommy if he remembers pissing on a cops' car last night.

Love it or hate it, Mötley Crüe did have a different singer in John Corabi and released a now-acclaimed self-titled album with him in 1994. The original movie script I reviewed only included a snippet of him in the studio singing while recording, so I was pleased that he had a little more airtime in the final product, by way of an MTV interview scene and walking on stage. Even though the hair has a decent amount of curl to resemble Crab's, I unfortunately don't connect Anthony Valbiro's facial expressions with those of Corabi at all. (Anthony is also the voice of Ten Second Songs on YouTube.)

So anyway, some people will always see the Jack bottle half-empty, while others see it half-full. What I'm saying is that for everything little thing diehard fans may pick as a fault in the movie, I may well be able to counter with another positive.

Like, if you said Mötley never played at Gazzarri's as was advertised on the big mural, I would say sure, but did you notice the accurate re-creation of this actual photo of Tommy and his sister Athena hanging on the wall of their family home?

Or if you said that Doc McGhee hadn't managed Kiss when he met Mötley (that began in 1995), or Doc didn't get Entertainment or Death tattooed on him, that was the other manager Doug Thaler, I would ask if you saw the correct date of 7 Nov 1980 stamped on the official paperwork when Frank changed his name to Nikki.

There is so much greatness in this movie for fanatics of the band. Like Vince saying he's not going to be an Electrician, at the time he's snorting the first cocaine of the movie with his girlfriend Lovey. Well, Vince was actually living with her at her parents' house at that time, and working as an apprentice for her father's business Graham Electric. Lovey may seem unnecessarily bossy or bitchy when she accompanies Vince to the audition to make sure the band is good enough, but at the time she was acting as Rockandi's manager by performing functions like booking them gigs at the Starwood and Gazzari's. She also did actually buy those white leather pants for Vince from North Beach Leathers, which he mentioned backstage before their first show. The true historical details crammed into this film for fans really is incredible. I think you get my point.

And I'm sure those of you who have been to the Rainbow Bar & Grill on the Sunset Strip will also appreciate the brilliant resemblance to this establishment during those scenes - that's because they actually shot it there. I wonder if there were any suprises under your table?

Even the Buddhist statue in the entrance of Tommy's home near the end was the right touch of décor, along with the koi print on his wall.

Lastly, how great was it seeing the real Nikki and Tommy at the end of the movie, along with footage from the final show on New Year's Eve 2015? OK, I admit it: I got more goosebumps at this point, as I flashed back to being at these last concerts on the other side of the world and partying with Tommy
backstage after their final concert.

It was also fun to see actual footage from over the years in a side-by-side comparison to scenes from the film. You can see here just how much of a stellar job the actors and entire crew have done to bring this story to life. One of my favourites here is when Nikki bangs Tommy's head against the table inside the Rainbow, which was actually seen on The Old Grey Whistle Test TV show during a backstage interview with the band, right after their first UK performance at Donington Monsters of Rock on 18 August 1984.

I'm sure many will feel the book is better than the movie, as is so often the case, but I do believe this truly is a great rock'n'roll movie that captures the excess of the bygone era and the amazing history of our band Mötley Crüe. They did it! And I trust you'll join me in watching it over and over, again and again.

PS: My favourite line of the movie is when Mick says, "My back hurts from carrying this band all tour."

Have you got the full, true history of Mötley Crüe in these books yet?
The Eighties | The Nineties | The Naughties | The Onesies

Rock on,

Paul Miles


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