We braved a level 3 hipster clusterwank to get into last week’s American Cinematheque screening of the White Stripes rockumentary, Under the Great White Northern Lights. I’d say it was well worth having to sit through the general skinny-guy whining and feathered-haircut chaos of a long line-up of a free movie screening. Jack and Meg are in great form in the live concert footage in this doc. They seem legitimately content to be touring their neighbors to the north (”We grew up across the street”, Jack says early in the film). In a genuine touch of respect for their fans, they put on a number of free shows between their venue shows, playing bowling alleys, pool halls, town squares and even inside a Winnipeg bus (you may have seen this footage on YouTube). They meet with Native Canadian tribal elders in Nova Scotia, march around with kilted Highland soldiers in Halifax, and generally dazzle the locals with their well-dressed roadies and camera crew.
The documentary relies heavily on the live footage, which is shot in a very arty style, making the red, white and black of their stage performances really pop and sizzle your retinas. The minutiae of their performances (the back of Meg’s drummer stool has her name on it, Jack’s picks are lined up in a row on top of a speaker) are captured lovingly. I wanted a bit more interview time with J & M, especially since Meg never says much. In a few of those interview snippets, Jack reveals their recording style (fast and quick, to capitalize on inspiration) and how they feel about how the music press feels about them. One of Jack’s favorite quotes about the band goes something like: “They are simultaneously the most fake and most REAL band you will ever hear.” Jack underlines for us – nothing that they do on stage is fake, they don’t even have a set list, and what can be construed as “fake” is artistic thoughtfulness – the power of colors, the power of their two-some.
Meg floats throughout this doc like a bit of a lost, pale soul. Jack always looks like a rock star, talks like a rock star. He exudes confidence even if it is a front for a more sensitive soul. Meg follows him from gig to gig, smoking quietly, grinning to herself, looking out the window. As much as we think we may know – or not know – about this band, they are still quite enigmatic to us. On the one hand you have the schoolyard sweetness of “I Can Tell That We Are Going to Be Friends” and the electric spazzmatic bravado of “Icky Thump”. Who are these people? The documentary doesn’t tell us, it just shows us. It’s a must see for Stripes fans.