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The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights(2009)
Documents the 2007 White Stripes tour across Canada. Hitting every province and territory, Jack and Meg White took their art-blues-rock to Iqaluit and Charlottetown, Edmonton and Toronto. The cameras not only document each unique concert experience but also capture the inner life of this mysterious musical duo.
For more about The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights and the The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights Blu-ray release, see the The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on May 27, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jack White
Director: Emmett Malloy
» See full cast & crew
The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights Blu-ray Review
The White Stripes on tour throughout Canada are captured both personally and professionally in this gritty film by Emmett Malloy.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, May 27, 2010
Not so very long ago a successful career in the music business was based on the ability to get signed by a major label. What that meant in real terms was that a cookie cutter approach to marketability unavoidably emerged, as record company executives are usually not known for their innovative thinking and risk taking. If "Band A" had a chart topper with this formula or that formula, within months, "Bands B through Z" suddenly emerged outright mimicking the original idea. Somewhere along the line in the 1980's, that approach changed radically, as punk and then grunge took over the industry. With the explosion of the internet, a whole new generation of self-promoting artists realized they didn't need the imprimatur of a major label to get their music out to the masses, and suddenly the charts were awash with self produced and released efforts that often brought a whole new sound to a traditionally straitlaced environment. While Northwesterners (and I'm one of them) often think they were the sole progenitors of at least grunge if not the whole new mode of self-producing and releasing, the fact is this entrepreneurial spirit was really a worldwide phenomenon, and several bands across the United States alone rose to popular and critical acclaim. Detroit's White Stripes has been one of the best known and most successful of this new breed of musician. Several of their albums have not only topped the charts, they've regularly won the Grammy for Best Alternative Album to boot. In 2007, the band, consisting of once married Jack and Meg White, announced their intention to tour every province of Canada, a country they hadn't visited previously. Under Great White Northern Lights, documents this far ranging tour, while interspersing several scenes of actual performances.
The history of the concert film is a rather convoluted one, and it didn't start with the explosion of 1960's and 1970's films like Woodstock, despite popular belief to the contrary. Though perhaps they can't be thought of as true concert films, scores (no pun intended) of acts from the first days of the talkies in the late 1920's were immortalized on film. In fact early films of these performers sometimes remain the only vestige of vaudeville icons that still exist. Popular singers and big bands regularly made shorts throughout the 1930's and 1940's, and some, like Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw, even made regular feature film appearances. But by the late 1960's a different, less glamorous and polished genre had sprung up, including Monterey Pop and its progeny Woodstock and the long-delayed, though filmed in 1968, The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. These films exploited the nascent anti-establishment feeling that was part and parcel of the rock and roll revolution, bringing a grittier ethos that perhaps found its most anarchistic symbol in the actual death which was captured in the Mayles Brothers' epic Stones documentary Gimme Shelter.
The White Stripes are certainly a kinder, gentler duo than the often grim and grimacing acts of the 1960's and 1970's. What sets Under Great White Northern Lights, however, is its emphasis on the two apart from their performances. What emerges is an unusually insightful look at the constraints that stardom often imposes on even those who have sought to forge their own way in an often fickle business. Jack White seems especially sensitive to the "box" that the Stripes' success has put him in, though it's notable that his ex-wife's anxiety issues actually forced the Stripes to cancel a large swath of their 2007 tour.
What also emerges from this interesting film by Emmett Malloy is the anachronistic fun the Whites eke out of everyday touring. One funny moment has the two arriving in superstar style to play one note and then leave immediately, with the cheering audience chanting, "One more note, one more note." These moments of joy are contrasted with the more doleful aspects of traveling and performing, though the Whites often burst through even those constraints, doing on the fly performances for quickly assembled crowds at such remote locations as Whitefish in the Yukon.
The Whites insisted for years that they were actually siblings, instead of (then) spouses. (In fact, Jack took Meg's surname when they married, yet another example of their out of the box—no irony intended—thinking). They insisted, once their marriage (and then divorce) became part of the public record, that they had done that to keep the focus on the music instead of their interpersonal relationship. That relationship is front and center throughout Under Great White Northern Lights, and the two certainly seem to have reached a rather peaceful détente with each other. Meg seems positively enchanted to jangle her tambourine while Jack tears through a number of bluesy riffs on his guitar. She does seem more reticent than Jack does in many of the interview segments.
The two have made a sort of career out of exploiting the color relationships between black, white and red, and Malloy follows their lead in the film itself, with brief color segments highlighting the red end of the spectrum, while the bulk of the film plays out in sometimes rather grainy black and white. It brings a somewhat unexpected verité element to the viewing experience, as if we're watching an archival film instead of a relatively recently made documentary. This is "lo-fi" filmmaking, much like the Whites' own predilection in their music making, and as such, it is a perfectly fitting testament to two very unusual and unique musicians.
The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights Blu-ray, Video Quality
Malloy intentionally has created a grimy, gritty look for large portions of this film, so trying to compare this Blu-ray's AVC encoded 1080p image (in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio) to the latest shiny summer blockbuster is unfair and unwarranted. The black and white footage is often extremely grainy, with low contrast. Most of the color footage is skewed toward the red side of the spectrum, as you will see from some of the screen captures included with the review. Both black and white and color segments also sport softness most of the time. What results is a visual experience completely in tune with the Stripes' down and dirty, unpretentious musical identity. This is not a glossy, surface deep documentary, and Malloy's choices here augment both the personal side of the Whites, warts and all, as well as the concert performances. This is certainly not Blu-ray reference material in and of itself, but it perfectly recreates Malloy's vision, for better or worse.
The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The two lossless audio options, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0, are amazingly clear and robust, with astounding fidelity and snap. The only problem here is Jack White's often mumbling style with his lyrics, which render large portions of the concert material unintelligible. Unfortunately there are no subtitles available to help decipher what exactly he's singing about. But the music, often very spare and open, is presented with brilliant clarity and expert directionality. The larger concert venues are extremely well mixed, with wonderful use of surround channels to recreate the hall ambience and crowd sounds. The music is always front and center in the mix, both literally and figuratively, with the audience reactions never overpowering the duo. Some of the additional acts, like bagpipers and fiddlers, also sound wonderful. Some may not like the intentionally ragged sound of the Stripes, but these lossless audio tracks recreate their unkempt music in all its dissheveled glory.
The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
There are no supplements on the Blu-ray itself. Jim Jarmusch offers an interesting essay on the Stripes and this film itself in the insert booklet.
The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The White Stripes have carved out one of the most unique sounds in alternative music. Under Great White Northern Lights captures the duo in both personal moments and concert footage, and offers a visceral recreation of what being on the road is really like. Fans of the duo will no doubt want to pick up this Blu, but even those not usually interested in this kind of fare may find this an unusually effective piece.
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• White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights Blu-ray - March 13, 2010
Next Tuesday is the Blu-ray release date for the White Stripes documentary, The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights, shortly after its US premiere in Austin, TX, as part of the South By South West Music Conference (its world premiere was at last year's ...
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