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I had the pleasure of attending the world premiere of "The White
Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights" last night at the Toronto
International Film Festival, and it was a fantastic event. The guests
of honour included Jack White, Meg White, and Director Emmett Malloy,
who watched the film alongside their fans (which made it hard to
concentrate on the film, I might add).
Malloy's beautiful film takes the audience on a journey with the White Stripes as they complete their 2007 Canadian-wide music tour that included at least one stop in every province and territory in Canada. The film pays special attention to Jack and Meg's famous free side-shows that occurred in a wide variety of fantastic settings, from a city bus in Winnipeg to the Arva Flour Mill outside London. Audiences are treated to intimate back-stage interviews with the band, comedic interactions between Jack, Meg, and their fans, and never-before-seen coverage of some of the most action-packed, breathlessly amazing concerts ever to come to Canada.
Malloy seems to have had a knack of always being there with a camera at the exact right second, as scene after scene reveals the most beautiful, emotional, exciting, and downright bad-ass moments of the White Stripes ever caught on film. Fans will have a new-found appreciation for the White Stripes, as the passion and enthusiasm that Jack and Meg convey throughout the film are impossible to miss.
While this is an excellent choice for fans of the band, especially for those who were lucky enough to attend one of their concerts or shows, the film may be poorly received by others who do not have a full appreciation for Jack and Meg. But if you ARE a fan, get ready for the most electrifying, moving film of your life- you won't regret it.
Im a big white stripes fan and sat through this entire film with a huge smile on my face! It was simply an amazing experience, the moments captured in this documentary are priceless along with the the many unusual and interesting setting and venues that they played! Powerful live versions of the songs, great moments with Jack and Meg that make you love them both even more! I could hardly sit still during this film, due to the many fantastic songs being played in versions that make them even better than the recorded ones. The camera work, the editing, the use of black and white and other filters, all made this an absolute joy to watch. Jack & Meg, you are such cool cats! =) I walked away from this film feeling inspired and uplifted!
"Under Great White Northern Lights" is half concert film, half behind
the scenes look at one of the great American bands of the modern era,
The White Stripes. After failing to truly tour Canada throughout the
majority of their 10 year existence as a band, the Stripes decided to
go all out with a tour that saw them play in every single Canadian
province. As part of their fun, they brought along music video director
Emmett Malloy to film the experience and give the fans a glance behind
Let me level with you by saying I'm a White Stripes disciple. What front man Jack White does with every album, every song, every line, I consider to be complete genius. He is perhaps the most talented man in the world right now, a guy who is sickeningly good at pretty much everything he puts his mind to. Anytime I see an expose on Jack, I come away thinking that whatever talent of his that he considers to be the 38th best thing that he does, would be better than my number one best skill. So I am far from unbiased when I say that "UGWNL" is an outstanding example of what a concert film/band documentary could and should be. Malloy gives us an insight into the minds of the Jack and Meg without giving them too much leeway to show the negative side of artistry. At the same time, he gives us snippets of show footage without letting the whole thing turn into a glorified recorded concert. It's a brilliant mix that keeps the audience zoned in on what's happening while showing off just how special this band really is. Malloy also chooses the songs he uses very carefully without relying on the band's more well-known hits and thereby displays the versatility and diversity of the Stripes.
Jack and Meg, meanwhile, hold up their part of the bargain by delivering in every single scene, be it concert or interview segment. The raw energy and intensity they bring to the stage is matched only in the way they (Jack especially) think and work on their sound off of it. Everything about the Stripes is a paradox of sorts. They take the stage without a set list yet put more thought into what they will play than just about any other band. Their sound is often raw and sometimes unrefined and yet at the same time it is so much more advanced than what you get from most rock artists. Everything about the band is both complex and simple all at once and that same dynamic works in the off stage dynamic between Jack and Meg, a relationship that "UGWNL" so graciously gives us a glimpse of. This is a must-see for any Stripes fan and a should-see for anyone who wants to better understand the mind of a genius.
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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For those that don't know, The White Stripes have blazed a trail of
blues havoc across the musical frontier for many years. One guitar. A
drum kit. And most of the time a single voice. The White Stripes are
minimal with a capital M.
Thankfully they are also good. They are not doing anything revolutionary or even unique. They are just offering an alternative to the polished top 40 music scene and from the look of this documentary, having a great time doing it.
This film offers black and white and color footage from a Canadian tour. Whether you like the songs will depend on how much you love thrashy blues and conventional country but there is no denying the enthusiasm that Jack and Meg bring to the stage, so it is wise that the film puts the focus here.
In 2007, to support their new album Icky Thump and to celebrate their
10th anniversary, Jack and Meg White took to Canada to tour. Under the
Great Northern Lights is superb because it doesn't take the usual
approach that documentaries following a band on-the-road do. But then
again the White Stripes aren't the 'usual' rock band. It's just a
guitarist/piano player and a drummer, maybe a guy playing bagpipes
occasionally, and there's patterns in the songs with the number 3 and
colors black and red. One of the members (Jack) does the majority of
the talking (Meg even needs subtitles at points to be understood on
camera, a point Jack makes fun of at one point on camera), and their
'tour' is both the traditional concert-venue variety and a more
spontaneous form of performing on buses, in bowling alleys, in parks,
just anywhere. I'm surprised they didn't perform in a bathroom.
It's an amazing concert movie for reasons of unpredictability, but also for the interesting places they go to along the way (they meet up with a tribe of Indians and play some of their music), and just the personalities of the White Stripes on screen. They have a strange appeal; they're not totally hard rocking like grunge, but they're not as 'soft' as an emo band. They employ hard rock, and folk, and punk, and some music that is just unidentifiable except as White Stripes songs (you'll know them when you hear them, one of them is arguably the title track of Icky Thump). The collection of songs is fantastic to see played live, with some turns unexpected with an innocence to them (they perform "Wheels on the Bus Go Round & Round"!), and it's all off the cuff; according to Jack they don't have a set list and it flows much more naturally from that approach.
And, on top of the content being so strong and inviting, the way the film is shot and how the director stages the White Stripes is engaging. It's black and white film for 85% of the time (other 15% is color, but only for some performances on stage), and it's like getting an old-time portrait of musicians on the road or something. It's strange to pinpoint, but it's such a strange way to make a concert movie anyway. It has the conventional structure, but the way its shot and edited is captivating. I didn't want it to end really. I was curious about their music before, and liked some songs especially. Under the Great Northern Lights has made me a fan.
Interesting only if, like me, you're a White Stripes fan. And then,
even, not great. Doesn't really give any great background info on the
band, or allow you to feel what their lives are like.
The music is good, what there is, but that is flawed in its editing. Sometimes we only get snippets of songs tacked together. And entire concert (like they did in Under Blackpool Lights) would have been great, but would have taken up the entire movie.
Probably the most interesting aspect of the film is as a travelogue of their Canadian tour. The towns they visit are often quaint and historic and the scenery quite beautiful.
Worth a watch, but don't expect too much.
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