Saturday, February 12, 2011


I just wrote about what was probably my favorite music documentary of the past year, Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage.  Another one that deserves mention is The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights. It's nominated against Rush in Best Longform Video at the Grammys tomorrow.  While I prefer the Rush flick, I think that Emmett Malloy did a great job on this. Ostensibly, it documented The White Stripes' 2007 tour of Canada, and instead of just doing arenas, they did lots of last minute performances in strange locations, including an old age home, a bus, and a Y. It showed a lot about Jack White's commitment to music and making it something that isn't just easy to get. The special shows were announced usually at the last minute, it wasn't the kind of deal where you buy stuff online via a presale from the comfort of your own home. Jack doesn't make it easy on himself either - he mentions that he plays old guitars that are difficult to keep in tune, he keeps his picks at the back of the stage so if he drops one, he has to rush to the back of the stage and not mess up the song, stuff like that. It's really part of Jack's entire aesthetic, it comes through in his music and also in the way he runs Third Man Records.

But the unspoken heart of the film is the relationship between Jack and Meg White, a relationship that seems too complicated to explain or describe in words or pictures. And we now know, that the film documented part of what was their last tour, as they just announced their breakup earlier this month.

If you haven't seen the flick, stop here.

The interviews with Jack and Meg tell a lot of the story: the relationship looks like it's getting uncomfortable. Of course, it's to be expected: while Jack always sticks with the storyline that they are brother and sister, everyone knows that they are ex-husband and wife. The fact that they are in a band together - a duo at that - is pretty amazing. It's a complex relationship, too: she encouraged him to date the woman who is now his wife, Karen Elson, and he hired her husband Jackson Smith to play guitar on Elson's debut album. Meg and Smith were married in a ceremony at Jack's house; Jack Lawrence of The Raconteurs was married at the same ceremony. It's complicated.

But you can kind of see things coming to an end in the last scene. Jack and Meg are sitting at a piano, with Jack playing "White Moon," and Meg swaying and watching him.  There's one little moment, where she looks at him and then at the camera and then away.  Soon after, tears start flowing from her eyes. It kind of says everything. It really is a cool doc, and watching it for the second time, with the Stripes now in the rear view mirror, it takes on a lot more weight. It's rare that documentaries about music groups have such raw moments of honesty, and few of them are this poignant, lovely and sad at the same time. I was really sorry to hear that they were breaking up... but after watching this again, I kind of understand why.

1 comment:

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