The Fanning sisters, Elle and Dakota, are in talks to team up as siblings (method!) for a planned feature film about the sixties family girl-group curiosity the Shaggs. The Shaggs, one of rock’s quirkier no-hit wonders, were comprised of four New Hampshire sisters — Dot, Betty, Helen, and Rachel Wiggin — who had no seeming musical aptitude, but formed a band anyway because their father, Austin Wiggin, insisted his mother’s session with a palm reader pre-visioned their global success despite their awkward, gangly appearance.
They recorded one cacophonous album, 1969’s Philosophy of the World, which was widely derided, and they laid down the instruments they weren’t quite sure what to do with in the first place after their father’s death in 1975. But they did have their fans, like Frank Zappa, who infamously called them “better than the Beatles,” and the band NRBQ, which rereleased the girls’ album in 1982.
Dieckmann (who directed 2009’s Motherhood, with Uma Thurman) spent the late eighties and early nineties shooting music videos for R.E.M., Aimee Mann, and the Throwing Muses, and first set up her Shaggs movie at the now-defunct Artisan Entertainment, and it bounced around Hollywood for years — until now.
Oddly, just as the Fanning sisters are boarding Dieckmann’s cinematic project, a long-gestating Off Broadway musical about the Shaggs and their only album is also finally and simultaneously taking shape. The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World starts previews in mid-May, and opens Off Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in June.
It’s almost Greek in nature,” says John Langs, the musical’s director and co-creator. “There’s a very clear line of an American Kronos, devouring his children: He essentially imprisoned his teenage daughters and erased their years of going from girls to women, and replaced it with endless band practice and calisthenics. Now, with our show and the movie coming together, I feel like we’ve become instruments of this prophecy. I feel the hand of Austin Wiggin pushing at my back.”