It takes less than two minutes for Netflix’s new Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt to drop two sex scenes: one in a bathroom with a topless woman, and another in front of a crowd where a woman squirts with a force so comically strong that it flies across the room. If you were wondering why women still find it so difficult to this day to be taken seriously in the recording studio, as musicians, and in the music industry — never fear, Mötley Crüe are about to make it explicitly clear.
Just like hair metal, this movie has nothing below the surface. It exists to mythologize the bad behaviour of men who made sub-par music and glamorise the ridiculous stereotype from a bygone era that women belong in the audience and not on the stage (or at the record label signing deals, or backstage managing the band, or working in radio — you did notice all those people were also men, right?).
For those unfamiliar with Mötley Crüe and the L.A. scene they came out of, they’re one of dozens of hair metal bands, including Poison, Slaughter, and Whitesnake, that were inspired by the sounds of heavy metal music and the visuals of glam rock. Hair metal, and its dominance on the charts in the mid-‘80s, was driven by the legions of women who made up their fan base, and the bands knew it. Their songs were mostly about romance, love, and sex. It’s not that women can’t enjoy sweaty, beefy men playing black metal, but the hair metal scene went out of its way to create an audience of women. On the surface, their big hair and makeup feminised (or androgenised) the guys in these band, but, as you can see in The Dirt, the bands still managed to treat women like objects to be used and thrown away.
The movie wants to be one part cautionary tale and one part “OMG, did that really happen?” Women only show up in the first half, saving the second half for a redemption story in which the guys only need each other. Every woman we meet early in the story is treated like an inanimate object, along with the drugs and booze they consume too much of: Nikki Sixx (Douglas Booth) saying “muzzle that” to Vince Neil (Daniel Webber) about his girlfriend, the woman giving blow jobs under the table, the groupie who causes Neil to lose his $800 leather pants, their A&R guy’s girlfriend, when they compare scorecards on the number of girls they fucked on the tour. Rounding out the motley crew (yeah, I said it) is Mick Mars (played, in a strange bit of casting, by the man most will recognise as Game of Thrones sadist Ramsay Bolton, Iwan Rheon), a dude who they all call “old man” because he suffered from ankylosing spondylitis (a form of arthritis) and because he’s like, five years older than they are. He is the only person who doesn’t try to have sex with every woman in his orbit in the entire film.
The first woman to speak with any agency is Roxy (Jordan Lane Price), Tommy Lee’s (Colson Baker) fiancée. Up to this point, Lee has told us in voiceovers that he’s all about love. He presents as the goofball of the group, a harmless kind of nice guy. When he introduces Roxy to his parents, his mother asks if she’s a groupie. Roxy takes offence and isn’t happy that Lee didn’t stand up for her so, later, on the tour bus, she calls his mother a c*nt and stabs him with a pen. That’s outrageous — and followed by Lee giving her an open-handed slap that leaves her bleeding and everyone’s mouths hanging open. Later, when his wife, the TV star Heather Locklear (Rebekah Graf), leaves him, he breaks a glass partition with his bare hands. Lee’s anger issues are never addressed, they simply exist, and the women in his life have to navigate around them.
Cameron Crowe’s 2000 “I’m with the band” film Almost Famous is beloved because, although it treats women in much the same way, they get a point of view and a voice. Our heroes in Almost Famous aren’t the emotionally-stunted rock stars — it’s the music these women love and their deep love for the music. With The Dirt, we get all the gross antics and none of the music (because, in my opinion, it sucked) while women are set pieces. Why, in this day and age, would anyone would think we need this cinematic ode to toxic masculinity? There’s a reason this project languished in development hell since MTV and Paramount Pictures bought the rights in 2006: No one could make a movie raunchy enough for the Crüe to approve of. Somehow, after Focus Features became the latest studio to drop it, Netflix swooped in to pick up this instantly timeless gem in 2017. With the guy who helped create Jackass, Jeff Tremaine, as the director, there was truly no chance this would be anything other than regressive.
If you really want to get into some rock star antics, go read Belinda Carlisle of The Go-Go’s memoir, Lips Unsealed. She and her band were getting wasted up and down the Sunset Strip long before Mötley Crüe and were actual punks who consumed enough booze and drugs to send those boys home with their balls all shrivelled up. And they did it without being a total cliché.
The Dirt is available on Netflix now