The Dirt, a new Netflix biopic based on the tell-all band autobiography The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band, is the inside look at Mötley Crüe that you never asked for. It hits all the tired beats of a behind-the-music epic—rockers fall in love with strippers and heroin, make fun of groupies and record label execs, play sold-out shows and black out afterwards. At one point in the film, the band’s overworked manager remarks that while other rock bands acted out because they thought they had to, Mötley Crüe truly was that hardcore. Of course, these kinds of flatteries are suspect in a film that’s based on its own subjects’ boasts and brags—and the band’s non-stop partying doesn’t come across as uniquely epic so much as clichéd and sad.
Band members Nikki Six (Douglas Booth), Tommy Lee (Colson Baker aka Machine Gun Kelly), and Vince Neil (Daniel Webber) are presented as the main offenders, accenting their own life stories with wacky hijinks like puking on strippers, sleeping with each other’s girlfriends, and pranking other dudes by keeping a girl under their bar to give surprise blowjobs. A scene in which Vince expresses his love for a pair of leather pants over his girlfriend drives home what has already been made abundantly clear: women are accessories in this film, and not particularly important ones.
Despite their efforts not to erase the “warts” and “ugly parts” from their biopic, Mötley Crüe clearly didn’t realize that brutal honesty doesn’t make up for a painful lack of self-awareness or self-critique. Instead of giving agency back to the female props the band used for decades, The Dirt spends almost two hours glamorizing shitty behavior, and then attempts to exonerate its stars with a few vague voiceovers about regret and rehabilitation.
The film acknowledges that acting out does yield serious consequences, but chooses not to dwell—addiction gets more screen time than recovery, and the ultimate triumph of the band seems to vindicate the actions of each of the players, as if they’ve been collectively called to a higher purpose. A scene in which Tommy Lee punches his fiancée in the face on a tour bus, surrounded by his passive bandmates, is a perfect example. Sad and serious music signals that the film does not condone Lee’s actions, but the violence is never revisited, just shuffled in with a number of anecdotes about the chaos and insanity of life on the road.
At multiple points during The Dirt, characters address the camera directly and point out that the film isn’t exactly clinging to reality. There’s an acknowledgment that the narration is biased, and has been recalibrated for coherence—or just to tell the best story possible. Omission is its own form of flattery, and this story about the epic rise and fall of Mötley Crüe is just riddled with eraser marks. Most notably, there’s a controversial memory that Nikki Six included in the band’s autobiography, but which is ultimately absent from the film.
As Rolling Stone previously reported, “In The Dirt, written by the group with author Neil Strauss, Sixx recollects a night where a woman he knew pulled him into a small room at a party and the two began having sex. Soon after, Sixx left the room, returned with bandmate Tommy Lee and tricked the woman as to who she was having sex with… Sixx said that when he woke up the next morning, he didn’t remember the incident until the woman called him and told him she had been raped the night before. Though she said her attacker was a man who’d picked her up while she was trying to hitchhike home, Sixx said the story made him realize ‘that I had probably gone too far.’”
He continued, “At first, I was relieved, because it meant I hadn’t raped her. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I pretty much had. I was in a zone, though, and in that zone, consequences did not exist. Besides, I was capable of sinking even lower than that.”
When asked about the anecdote during a subsequent Rolling Stone interview, Sixx replied that, “There was a little embellishment here and there.” In a subsequent statement to the magazine, he claimed that, due to drug and alcohol abuse, “I honestly don’t recall a lot of the interviews with Neil.” He continued, “I don’t actually recall that story in the book beyond reading it. I have no clue why its in there other than I was outta my head and it’s possibly greatly embellished or [I] made it up. Those words were irresponsible on my part. I am sorry.”
“We own up to all our behavior that hurt our selves, our families, friends and any innocents around us.”
Additionally, aside from the previously mentioned scene, The Dirt fails to reckon with Tommy Lee’s history of intimate partner violence. In 1998, Lee pleaded no contest to a spousal battery charge. He was subsequently sentenced to six months in prison for assaulting his then-wife Pamela Anderson. At the time, the Malibu judge described “a very clear—very disturbing, in my judgment—pattern of conduct in which otherwise resolvable matters are handled by violence,” adding, “You do it whether it’s a family member or a third party.” Years later, Lee lashed out at Anderson on Twitter for talking about their abusive relationship during an interview, writing, “Think she’d find something new to discuss instead of rehashing old shit but I guess she has nothing else going on & needs attention.” There’s also lead singer Vince Neil’s long rap sheet, including an incident where he was accused of violently attacking a prostitute in Las Vegas.
In lending their life stories to The Dirt, the members of Mötley Crüe were probably aiming for some form of redemption. Instead, they ended up with a barely watchable ode to bad hair, bad jokes, and deeply uncool actions. It’s concerning to think that the film, and the book before it, are biased attempts by these bandmates to show themselves in a particular light. Cringeworthy lines like, “Don’t ever leave your girlfriend alone with Mötley Crüe, ever. Because they’ll fuck her,” make it painfully clear how Mötley Crüe wants the world to see them. There’s far more fantasy here than honest self-reflection.
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