Saturday, May 15, 2010

Pose Reviews A Movie. #14: The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights

For self-proclaimed fans of the stylish and minimalist blues-rock duo The White Stripes, this one's a keeper.

Emmett Malloy's intimate look at the band's 2007 Canadian tour provides great footage of a lot of backstage dynamics and candid conversation from increasingly legendary guitarist Jack White and drummer Meg White, but it's also a really sweet look at our fair country, focusing specifically on some of the more remote parts of Canada.

The White Stripes' Canadian tour was a pretty big deal back in 2007, since it blanketed the entire country, with performances in every province and territory, including surprise daytime gigs in unusual venues like bowling alleys, YMCA summer camps, and on board boats and buses.

Jack White states explicitly at the beginning of the film that he and Meg specifically wanted to play shows in smaller communities, citing that the real heart of a nation as big as ours lies mostly in the outlying areas.

Mind you, that attitude didn't stop them from playing the Molson Ampitheatre in Toronto--a gig that I was enthusiastically present for, but which, to my dismay, didn't get covered in the documentary.

But the fact that the Toronto gig is marginalized to provide extensive focus on the Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Iqaluit tour dates is what makes Under Great White Northern Lights so charming, especially for Canadians.

It gives some of us more urban, cosmopolitan Canadian viewers a chance to see what some of the more remote destinations in our country are truly like--not what tourism photos and gross misconceptions might have you believe.

Although the northern reaches of Canada are supposed to provide a backdrop for a documentary about the band, the film (perhaps inadvertently) acts as a cinematic essay about the land.

I loved the scenes depicting the landscapes of places like Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Iqaluit just as much as I enjoyed the footage of band interviews.

And believe me, that enjoyment was an unexpected by-product--mainly, I just freakin' love The White Stripes.

Regardless of whether you want to focus on the film's depiction of Jack and Meg's relationship and their connection to their music, or the geographic locale of their tour, Under Great White Northern Lights is a really enjoyable documentary.

My only complaint (and it isn't really much of one) is that although there is some footage of the live performances, it's strictly in bits and pieces.

Granted, if you want to see a full-fledged White Stripes concert film, you'd be better off watching 2004's The White Stripes: Under Blackpool Lights, which is certainly one of the better concert DVDs I've ever seen, and definitely a great representation of what their live shows are like.

But I have seen music documentaries strike a much more impressive balance between onstage and backstage footage like Steven Cantor and Matthew Galkin's LoudQUIETLoud: A Film About The Pixies which includes interviews with the band members interspersed with footage of songs played on tour from beginning to end.

Despite that small criticism, though, I thought Under Great White Northern Lights was a love letter to my country, written by one of my favourite bands and delivered by an extremely competent filmmaker.

All in all, I give it four and a half face-melting guitar solos out of five.

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