Friday, March 26, 2010

The White Stripes - Under Great White Northern Lights

A Twist employee and I were talking about The White Stripes as we were listening to the CD version of this chronicle of the band’s tour of Canada to promote the Icky Thump album. The employee (who doesn’t like most new music) was asking “what is it about The White Stripes? They aren’t doing anything that hasn’t been done before, yet…” My response was simply “sincerity.” There is something entirely real about Jack White. Even the affectations of dress and style do nothing to detract from the feeling that there is something so true to the heart of music in what he does. If you have doubted this up until now, I suggest you get Under Great White Northern Lights and see exactly what you have been missing. Directed by Emmett Malloy who has previously worked with Jack Johnson, Under Great White Northern Lights stands on its own as a fascinating and beautiful film, but it completely blows your mind as a rock documentary. There are several subtexts running through the film, all of which work together seamlessly to create a completely satisfying musical experience. The tour itself was unique in that it covered every province and territory in the Canada. This finds them playing in tiny towns and backwaters in remote areas. In addition they tried to perform impromptu gigs in the afternoons at weird locations. These scenes which show them in bowling alleys, lodges, bars, Indian community centers and town squares is some of the most compelling footage in the movie, and it gives the viewer a clue as to how fearless and talented Jack White really is. The scene of him playing a Blind Willie McTell song to a group of Inuit tribal elders sends chills down your spine. Jack’s partner in music, Meg White and her relationship to Jack are also delved into in a quiet and emotional way. It is now common knowledge that they are former husband and wife and it is very clear that lots of real heavy emotional baggage exists between the two. In fact the closing scene of Jack and Meg seated on a piano bench together - Jack crooning “White Moon” while Meg silently weeps by his side provides both insight and additional mystery to their relationship. Meg for her part is possibly the most alluring woman in music. Miniscule, sexy and pathologically quiet, she is the solid rhythmic rock to Jack’s frenetic aural quicksilver. She plays the absolute most basic meat and potatoes thud style of drumming, but it absolutely perfect behind Jack’s bluesy, hard rock guitar bravado. The fact that these two people create such a mightier roar than bands with 5 times as many members remains one of the secrets to The White Stripes’ appeal.
Ultimately the film turns on the riveting footage of the band onstage. There is no question in my mind that, as my friend Lu said “Jack White - he is the anointed one of this generation isn’t he?” Yes Lu, he sure is.
Paul Epstein

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