Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Under the Great Northern Light [2010]

One could take this as a concert video – or as a documentary – I guess it kind of depends on how you want to look at it. It’s not really doing a ton of documenting behind the scenes of The White Stripes – more like documenting a unique tour.

Instead of your usual tour of major cities only - The White Stripes set out on a tour of Canada (a country they admit to just having tacked on to most tours) in order to hit every territory and province – with many spontaneous local spots in between.

If you like The White Stripes music – or are a beginner to them and are interested in finding out more – you will probably enjoy the film. There’s no major revelations here – no new understanding to them as a band – they kind of help perpetuate their own myths (they are siblings and not a former couple) about themselves and help answer a few questions you might have.

Jack hogs most of the interviews because Meg is quiet and doesn’t have much to say. I liked how Meg needed subtitles because she was so quiet – except for when she sung ‘In the Cold Cold Night’. They claim each set is spontaneous – and done on the cusp without a set-list. They talk inspiration – work ethic – and about challenging themselves constantly to keep things fresh.

Jack hates the fact that people believe that they are the most carefully planned out band – that everything is all premeditated – even though he freely admits certain aspects about them are very premeditated. He claims it’s the music that’s not planned and just flows through them – like any good rock god would claim. He says his favorite quote about them is something about how they are “simultaneously the most fake band in the world and the most real”.

Along the tour – they hit several small – smaller and smallest venues that a big band like the Stripes wouldn’t probably ever hit. We’re talking a pool hall – a rec center – a bowling alley – a fishing boat – a flour mill – a bus – a town square – and even a stop at an Indian Cultural Center. It’s interesting and entertaining that they’d plan doing something like that on the cuff – make a rumor on the net – and people show up in droves with just minutes head notice.

Most of the film is them playing music – so obviously, if you can’t stand their music – this isn’t a film for you. At the time 2007’s Icky Thump was their latest release – but it does not feel like a promotional video for that album – which is nice.

The entire film shifts between black and white and color. There’s no real climax – unless you want to count the 10-year anniversary concert – which feels like more of the same – so if it was meant to feel like a conclusion of the story – they should’ve held back on some of the concert footage in the beginning and middle.

It took me a while to warm up to their music – but I find their entire tone, influences and ability to create characters in their music appealing – and much more interesting than most things out there. Since this film is more of a concert film – and I like their music – I’m not really going to give it a rating – because there was nothing I really didn’t like.

[directed by Emmett Malloy]


  1. Reviewed this myself last week and being a huge fan of The White Stripes to begin with, I totally dug this movie. Good review, felt Jack got too hung up on his critics though. Then again, Jack is the man and that story he told about the band who played "Born to Be Wild" was hilarious. Awesome, awesome band.

  2. Thanks, and yes - Jack did seem a bit too hung up didn't he? I guess in all my note taking - I eluded to myself - but didn't really gel it together - good point.

    Yes, there was a couple of funny stories of their early days too - which made me feel charmed by them - even though at times I felt they were strengthening the "myths" about themselves.