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Friday, October 12, 2012

"Under Great White Northern Lights", The White Stripes on the road

Under Great White Northern Lights

I'm not a fan of The White Stripes, never been more than a casual listener who enjoys some of their songs. But I do not hesitate to recognize them as one of the most intriguing and exciting bands of the last 20 years. I would have loved to see them live. So, as some sort of consolation prize, I was really looking forward for this rockumentary, that films their 2007's very special tour through Canada, commemorating its 10 years of existence as a band.

"Under Great White Northern Lights" is mainly a concert film, mixed with a bunch of "behind the scenes" material. The "gigs" scenes are frankly stunning. Director Emmett Malloy really does an impressive job of capturing the rawness and uniqueness of the duo. Jack White is mind-blowing on stage, he might be the most significant artist music has given in latest years. Their songs, they way they perform are also helped by their minimalistic but suggestive visual looks, something that Malloy interprets and takes benefit of it. Red, white, black. Almost every song (a very diverse selection, showing the many sides of the band) performance on the film is a blast

Aside from the tunes live, the other focus of interest of this film is the challenge of playing in every single province of Canada, and also doing so on not just the usual venues. Jack and Meg did play on a bus, cafés, a bowling alley and even in front of a privileged cast of Indian tribal elders. That particular scene is shocking and amusing. 

But "Under Great White Northern Lights" has a problem, quite serious one. It gets boring, as a film. While the songs are amazing, the leading actors (the "characters", Jack and Meg) or the plot is quite disappointing. Sure, the couple's relationship (extensively written, discussed and documented about) is quite special, but their dynamic in front of the camera leaves the spectator (or at least me, I already said I'm not a fan) quite indifferent. 

Ok, then let's argue Malloy is not interested in exploring the sentimental side of The White Stripes. That's a very reasonable choice (then I ask myself, why the latest, deeply touching scene?). But the interview scenes, about their career, the way they make music, about playing live, are far from being significant either. Meg is silent (her shyness is brutal, very shocking), but is the more talkative Jack who doesn't show/explain much to be remembered either. The opportunity of having an insight on the Stripes is missed. And considering how special was this band, so ambitious and yet so simple (the backbones of music), and how complex was their relation (something you can speculate while watching, but is just that, mere speculation), "Under Great White Northern Lights" to me is a great film concert documentary, but also a seriously missed opportunity. Except if you were looking just for songs of The White Stripes performed live.

SCORE: 5,75/10

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