Music Literature Film Index About

Under Great White Northern Lights, Directed by Emmett Malloy

Three Foot Giant, September 18, 2009 (US)

Screenwriter: Emmett Malloy

Starring: The White Stripes

So you don’t feel quite right wearing that Cubs jersey anymore. Youth turns the page and you wake up doused in responsibility. Idol worship had its time and place, but somehow, things have changed. Maybe—not maybe—we got too old too quick. You are reminded of it again when you catch Purple Rain on Showtime and don’t feel that “best movie ever” rush that branded the experience so memorable in a time gone by. You think back to seeing the midnight shows of The Wall in Addison and Stop Making Sense on Sanibel Island, and wonder how it all passed by so fast.

And then they appear, fresh and cool, red and white. Immediately, they command your attention. It is something about how they look (and it is not just that they resemble peppermint candy). This is what music royalty used to look like.

The marriage of music and film had arrived with A Hard Day’s Night and continued on through Help!, Gimme Shelter, The Last Waltz, and many others still. When VCRs came along, the fun really began. There you are now, sitting in a dorm room watching Neil Young Live in Berlin, surrounded by friends as equally enthused in the moment.

But when it happens to a middle-aged fat man slouched on a couch, there is an added surprise quotient. You take notice, putting the Ho Ho down, understanding that inexpiably, things have changed. Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same. In this case, the past is now the future, a VCR turns into a Blu-ray player, and The Song Remains the Same becomes Under Great White Northern Lights.

Just like before, you end up calling (ahem, emailing) friends to discuss. You tell them how intimate it is, how interesting and revealing it is to see a closeup of a band at a crossroads, and how poignantly connected the relationship between Jack and Meg seems. You talk about how cool it is to see a band searching for all the right ingredients (locations included) conducive to being able to pull off that extra special show, even if it means bucking financial concerns that undoubtedly arise when zigzagging across Canada to seek out fans who are otherwise out of luck due to geographical logistics and the business side of musical tours.

So I tell a few friends about how much I loved it. Sure, they can go to YouTube for quick access to other examples of the White Stripes live fury—the SNL appearance, the Grammy performance, the Son House jams, and so on, and so on. But Under Great White Northern Lights gives much more than just front row seats to awe-inspiring performances. This is a film that gives you a look at the people behind the artists—people as dedicated to their craft as they are to their fans. Perhaps idol worship is not such a bad thing after all, even at this ungodly age.

Jack and Meg White are about to take the stage one last time, only it is the first time for some, and you can feel the energy exploding all over the walls, ceilings, back alleys, side streets … over each and every awed face.