Earlier this month, Nikki Sixx was put in the awkward position of denying an incident detailed in his own book. In The Dirt, the classic Mötley Crüe memoir written by the band with veteran music journalist (and future so-called “pickup artist”) Neil Strauss, Sixx relates a story about having sex with a woman in a closet during a party. At one point, he gets up to use the bathroom, and then tells his bandmate, Tommy Lee, to go back in the closet with him.
“In the closet, I stood directly behind Tommy,” he writes. “He fucked her while she grabbed my hair and yelled, ‘Oh, Nikki! Nikki!’”
Later, the woman tells Sixx that she was raped the night before. While she wasn’t referring to the incident in the closet, it causes Sixx to conclude that “I pretty much had” raped her.
When The Dirt was released in 2001, it was a bestseller celebrated as one of the most colorful and candid books ever written about a rock band. Eighteen years later, however, The Dirt is under fresh scrutiny due to a new movie adaptation that premieres Friday on Netflix. Suddenly, dishy stories about possible rapes seem a lot more problematic.
While the closet story isn’t depicted in the film version, it does indicate just how different a book like The Dirt plays in 2019. Capturing the right tone with this material seems virtually impossible. Sure enough, in the Netflix movie, the line between a warts-and-all depiction of reality and glamorization of terrible behavior is a bit muddled. This is especially true in the film’s first half, when we meet the Mötley knuckleheads — Nikki (Douglas Booth), Tommy (Colson Baker), Vince Neil (Daniel Webber), and Mick Mars (Iwan Rheon) — as they swiftly become groupie-abusing superstars. Pete Davidson also shows up as a record label executive whose girlfriend inevitably is seduced by the band.
Again, it’s not always clear whether the audience is supposed to laugh at or with these shenanigans. It doesn’t help that not a single woman in The Dirt has a discernible personality beyond “wife,” “mother,” or “random hot chick.” (Though this is also true of the book.) By the end of the film, however, The Dirt does take the shape of a cautionary tale in the manner of many rock movies.
For The Dirt‘s director Jeff Tremaine, the rise-and-fall morality tale side of the story is what attracted him to the project. Best-known as the co-creator of the Jackass TV show and the director the Jackass films, he says he saw parallels between Mötley Crüe and his own “roller coaster group of outrageous guys.”
“In the early days of our Jackass shit, when a hotel room got trashed, that was the bar where Mötley Crüe was, right? We were aware that that’s what they did,” he said.
In a recent interview, I asked Tremaine about the challenge of adapting The Dirt in 2019, and why his film is the dirtier alternative to Bohemian Rhapsody.