Thursday, March 18, 2010

Under The Great White Northern Lights

In a weird way, we all like to think of our favorite bands like the Beatles in The Yellow Submarine. Living in the same house the best of friends, going on wacky adventures. Of course that really doesn’t happen. Even the non animated Beatles were at the time of the film’s recording, barely speaking aside from the occasional hiss of pure venomous hatred.

But its sometimes difficult to remember. Watching a movie like LoudquietLoud is depressing, and not even because it shows The Pixies as dysfunctional. Instead it shows them as bored middle aged professionals who are too mature to let their past acrimony get in the way of a lucrative partnership. What was once one of the greatest bands of all time and is now the closest thing my generation has to a Vegas act. Its somehow insulting (in that nonsensical immature part of the brain where fandom lies) that the band should be cordial. Even something like Some Kind Of Monster is preferable. Sure it shows the band to be a disaster, but damn it they’re a Metallica sized disaster.

The White Stripes have made their career by appearing to actually live in The Beatle's Yellow Submarine house. And there have been remarkably few cracks in their persona. The White Stripes is the great band of contradictions. Jack and Meg preach a back to the roots simple style of music, and have garnished it with the most elaborate persona’s they could come up with. They concocted not just a back story but an out and out mythology for themselves. There are fantasy series with less Apocrypha then The White Stripes.

Much like everything they do Under The Great White Northern Lights feels at once almost queasily intimate and a complete put on. Giving you an up close and personal look while never even coming close to puncturing the bands mystique. It’s basically Year Of The Horse done right (Mainly because unlike that particularly woeful missed opportunity Under The Great White Northern Lights gives you some indication of why you’d want to see this band play music).

Chronicling the bands tour through the Canadian north, The Great White North portrays Jack White as the rarest of creatures, someone who is not uncomfortable at all with being a rock star (This was showcased ealier this year in Guggenheim’s documentary It Might Get Loud, which White stole out from under Jimmy Page and The Edge). He’s friendly and approachable seeming, with a goofball persona and a panache for rambling stream of conscience rants that will range from Old Blues Singers to the place of the raven in native American mythology in the span of a sentence. But he has just enough of that odd livewire energy that shows up in his performances for it to make sense. There’s something of the trickster in Jack White. He seems to have emerged living and breathing from some half forgotten piece of East Germanic folklore. One that was probably intended as a warning. His live performances are some of the most alive and vital in modern music. White doesn’t just play music when he’s live, he exorcises it from his body with a guitar, organ and banshee shriek often at the same time.

Meg is the quiet ying to Jack’s madman yang. She’s a private persona and has happily ceded the limelight to Jack since the beginning of their career (in one of the films funniest touches everything she says ends up subtitled like its holy writ). The Great White North is probably the closest we’re ever going to get to knowing the real White Stripes. But as the last scene suggests, there’s still a lot we don’t know. Which is exactly how it should be. Their secrets are what make them great.


J.D. said...

I'm a big fan to The White Stripes and am eagerly anticipating this film. But you certainly nailed the dichotomy of this band - at once authentic and enigmatic, which is probably a large part of their appeal.

The Mad Hatter said...

Very well put!

I'm looking forward to watching this movie again next week when I pick up the dvd. "Why is Hatter waiting a whole week?" you ask? Because I'm a vinyl junkie, and the LP of this soundtrack won't be arriving at my record store until Tuesday.

Might as well buy both in one stop, right?

This is a great post on a really cool film (and gets extra points for the nod towards IT MIGHT GET LOUD). Kudos sir.

I'm not sure if you were following my blog back in the fall, but I had a pretty cool experience watching this film at The Toronto International Film Festival.

Aaron said...

"White doesn’t just play music when he’s live, he exorcises it from his body with a guitar, organ and banshee shriek often at the same time."

Exactly. When he plays, it's like he's a man possessed on stage. I haven't seen this, but I have seen Under Blackpool Lights which is one of my favorite and most-watched live musical performance DVDs ever. Great write-up, Bryce.

MacKenzie said...

Man, Some Kind of a Monster was terrible.

Bryce Wilson said...

Thank you all for the kind words, and to MH for the great link. I am officially jealous as hell.