Friday, September 18, 2009

The White Stripes
Under Great White Northern Lights
World Premiere
Elgin Theatre, Toronto ON

We caught a break in 2007 when the Stripes were able to finish the Canadian Tour prior to Meg's bout with high anxiety. Even better, their tour was unique, they went places people not named Jewel normally don't go. And they brought some cameras.

As documentaries go, it's a great concert film.

As concert films go, it's got a great subject.

I don't know if it adds to the canon of either but it sure was a good time.

We were in line early outside the gorgeous Elgin Theatrer/Winter Garden building. First they let the VISA Gold/Platinum/Titanium and Manganese card holders in first, then the rabble were allowed to shuffle along.
The wait wasn't that bad. Got to play "I'll show you mine, if you show me yours" with a couple. They put up a good fight..."We saw the Stripes 4 times and each of the Raconteurs and Dead Weather once." Hmmm, impressive. I put it away with, "Lost count right now but I can tell you about the places from Glasgow to Virginia to ... (wait for it) Cleveland." (That'll mean more after you've seen the movie.)
Luck was on our side,we pulled up to the entrance at the same moment as Jack and got to yell and wave at him from a few feet away as he was trying to do the 'red carpet' thing.

Jack and Meg joined director Emmett Malloy onstage for a brief introduction to the film prior to the screening. Jack talked the most, thanking Canada. We're waiting for everyone to respond. Meg was silent.

So what about the film? Well, I don't know nothin' about birthin' no babies and probably less about film-making...BUT...

There was a certain esthetic beauty in the black-and-white segments, especially those shot outside in the barren northern wilderness.

Canada was made for the red and white segments.

Sometimes I wanted more music. Other times I wanted more talking. I always wanted more material and that must have been a huge challenge, deciding what didn't make it. In the end the film focuses heavily on the impromptu mini-shows done the afternoon of most major shows. It avoids the big arena shows in the populous cities on the southern portion of Canada; ie. Calgary, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Toronto and Montreal. It was those territories that really got their interest.

The off-stage stuff was raw at times, catching Jack and Meg tired or bored. There's no effort to deify the principals, they are shown as people hard at work, not always floating on that wispy cloud of superstardom. You can see them stumble across the melting permafrost, looking dishevelled smoking a cigarette or chugging from a bottle of liqour in the backseat of a car. The band is met by the local mayors in each of the small towns and that leads to some awkward and delicious moments. Meg explaining to a trucker they are a 'two piece rock band that makes a lot of noise." The mayer of Yellowknife describing a fight to the death between a wounded muskox and another who sensed it's weakness. Jack turning to Meg saying: "That's what I'm going to do if you get shot. I'm going to put you down!" A piece with the village elders in Iqaluit starts of somewhere on the borderline of uncomfortable and excruciating but ends up with one of the sweetest moments of the film, Meg beaming, smiling, as an old woman dances a jig while Jack accompanies another elder who's playing lead on an accordion.

Much of the video-verite portions consist of Jack expanding on Megs quiet nature. Most of her audio is accompanied by sub-titles as she tends to whisper, or at least get caught speaking underneath Jack who seems never to stop talking. In one scene Jack tries to get Meg to admit that it's HER choice to be the quiet one, not him hogging the spotlight. It ends with this little quip: "Randy Newman said short people got no reason to live...he never met a quiet person."

Jack talks about the constrictions of playing inside the "White Stripes Box." All that stuff about 3. He addresses the strange path they've taken from 'Detroit indie-gods to Product'and how that puts pressure on your artistic development. The indie-fans were fickle, he says, leaving them in droves after the success of the early releases. "Once somebody else on the block liked you...they didn't like you anymore." "None of those people who filled the early shows came out to any after that." He talks about the press adulation that was always accompanied by a death-knell call of "how long can they keep it up?" In other pieces he responds to the critics who have labelled them a 'packaged' band, admitting the 'candy cane' stuff was absolutely an affectation but only the thin shell covering his vehicle for experimentation and expression: the live show. He acknowledges they are at once phony and real. It's the box.

The music was terrific, always is. While we don't get any extended concert scenes we get plenty of full songs, so it's not irritating. An early clip from one of the impromptu mini-sets gives us a great version of Black Jack Davy. We get a full version of Blind Willie McTells Lord, Send Me An Angel during the elders meet. Concert footage includes a fan favorites, met by applause inside the theatre, for Jolene and Meg's solo turn at Cold, Cold, Night. More applause for the wicked guitar solos in Death Letter and 7 Nation Army. A nice version of Doorbell with Jack on bass. Shorter shots of the shows on a city bus, a boat in the harbour and a small stage in a city sqaure. Near the end, a quick medley that tried to cover some of the hundred other great moments there was no time to show.

The film closes with a real tear-jerker of a scene.

A short Q&A after the showing led to a couple interesting moments. An astute audience member stands up to shock the director and producer by informing them they made an error over the opening credits. "I live in Nova Scotia but I was born in Newfoundland. At the beginning of your film your on screen text says the scene is in NS butit's really in Newfoundland. Are you going to fix that before it goes to general release?" Next question please.

And finally, as Emmett Malloy is brandishing the mic to explain how difficult it was to get the rights to include a snippet of Citizen Kane (which was overlayed with Jack's vocals borrowed from the film and placed into Union Forever), Jack comes running out for his Kanye moment, grabbing the mic saying: "I'm gonna let you finish, I'm gonna let you finish... but Orson Welles made the best movie ever..."

So we let Jack have the last word. He had most in between.

CBC News Thought It Was 'Stylish', great overview here

The Globe and Mail informs us there's going to be a DVD, live CD and coffee table book. What, no video game?

The Canadian Press has Jack talking about the uniqueness of Canadians

Critic Kevin Williamson bravely picks UGWNL for Best Picture.

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