Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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DVD O.D. : Air Guitar Nation

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 15, 2007

To err is human, to air guitar divine…

Maybe the thing that Air Guitar Nation does best is to express the stimultaneous awesomeness and shamefulness of the practice in question. It’s an art, sure, but the overwhelming majority of the time, it’s an art that satisfies only the artist–you may feel like Eddie Van Halen while doing it, but the great majority of the time, you come off about as cool as Michael Anthony* while doing it. To demonstrate it as performance is generally terrible, but also inspiring–since for one who doesn’t enjoy or excel at dancing, it can be the single most invigorating physical extension of music appreciation one is likely to express. And it’s hard to look down on that, especially for those of us who can’t play Guitar Hero without the requisite jumping, strutting, kicking and headbanging.

Air Guitar Nation follows the days up to the 2004 Air Guitar World Championship in Oulu, Finland, with a focus on the US regional and national competitions and two players in particular. One is David Jung, better known as the kimono and Hello Kitty-adorned “C-Diddy,” who prefers a virtuoso style, complete with imaginary pick-scraping, two-finger tapping and faux-classical riffing. The other is Dan Crane, also known as the frequently shirtless “Bjorn Turoque” (say it out loud), who does a rawer, more physical style with jerky body movements and occasional fake guitar tosses. The two eventually make it to Finland–one through achievement, one through sheer stubbornness–and there they act as America’s representatives in the competition, our nation’s first submissions to the tournament.

It’s a pretty great rivalry at the film’s core–Diddy/Jung is a ridiculously cool guy that really makes the art form his own, running through Extreme’s rapid-fire “Play With Me” (which, combined with its use as the GH Rocks the 80s finale, is now firmly entrenched in the fake-rock pantheon) with enough verve, creativity and charisma (Jung is an actor in his day job) in his performance to be almost as stunning as watching the song actually being played–watch him win over an initially hostile West Coast audience for proof of his power. Yet, despite Jung’s Hiro Nakamura-like naive enthusiasm for his craft, he comes off as a fly-by-nighter compared to Bjorn/Crane’s “it’s all about the music, maaaaaaaaaaaaaan” type devotion to his mime-axing. At one point in the movie, Bjorn actually sulks about how “fake” Diddy’s air guitaring is, bemoaning that his own art, while being less flashy, is more real. That the irony of this statement is completely and thoroughly lost on Bjorn is what keeps the movie from ever being a waste of time.

Bizarrely, Air Guitar Nation also doubles as social commentary, as the only thing as important to the movie’s characters as the competition is getting out of Iraq. Several of the tournament’s founders and contestants claim to have invested so much time in their venture as a way to encourage peace–“if everyone was busy air guitaring, they couldn’t be holding a gun,” the echoed sentiment goes. It’s not exactly a brilliant insight, but it’s still sort of heartwarming when coming from such a unified, well-meaning community. And despite the occasional anti-US sentiment (“we’re not exactly popular right now,” Bjorn points out when arriving on foreign soil), the movie comes off as oddly patriotic–the “USA!” chanting at the nationals’ finale, the continued American supremacy at yet another Olympic-like event, and of course, the movie’s title (and title theme, sung and composed by Bjorn himself).

At about 77 minutes, the movie gives the subject just the amount of time and attention it deserves, especially since with the exception of only a few of the contestants, the performing being done never really seems particularly impressive or enjoyable. But with a can’t-miss soundtrack, enough loveable characters and an unmistakable and highly relatable feeling of artistic passion on display, the movie’s certainly worth that much. How long until the inevitable DDR doc, you think? Hope it’s not too late yet.

*(IITS does not mean to wish any further mockery on Michael Anthony in his time of trouble, as Anthony continues to be a stand-up and generally underappreciated human being. We just feel that coolness does not happen to be one of his greater virtues.)

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