“Air Guitar Nation,” review by Jennifer Merin

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Born of reality TV’s Magical Elves, “Air Guitar Nation” was initially conceived of as the “American Idol” of the first-ever US Air Guitar Championship, a series that would follow competitors C Diddy, Bjorn Turoque and Krye Tuff, as they battled each other to represent the US in the World Air Guitar Championships in Oulu, Finland, where they‘d take on The Red Plectrum (GB), The Torbinator (NZ), Mr. Metalilizer (Austria) and other national champs for the international title of world’s best.

By the time reality TV backed off the project (because clearing music rights was prohibitively expensive), first-time director Alexandra Lipsitz was hooked on the subject and characters with noms de strum like C Diddy, Bjorn Turock and Krye Tuff, among others.

Beginning in 2002, she and a dedicated crew shot some 400 hours of performance, behind-the-scenes, interviews and background bites to deliver this 81-minute doc about a surprisingly popular and profoundly quizzical worldwide cultural phenomenon.

If you’re not an air guitar buff– and, honestly, how many of us are?– you’re probably wondering why anyone would pretend to play an imaginary guitar and jump around wildly in front of a loudly jeering or cheering crowd. This doc’s players explain: C Diddy (an Exeter-educated Brooklyn-born actor whose real name is David Jung) says it lets someone without the requisite musical talent (ie. himself) be a rock star. Bjorn Turoque (AKA Dan Crane, Berkeley-born musician, composer, software developer and journalist) posits, with appealing self-derision, that “to err is human; to air guitar, Divine,” while his 80-something Nana, imitating his moves, likens ‘Danny’s’ performances to mime. Some competitors suggest air guitar is Olympics-level sport, others call it meditation. One proclaims it’s the perfect performance art because it’s invisible, transforming nothingness into something ephemerally tangible. Okay. If you say so.

Fact is, the film’s very entertaining. Lipsitz is a good storyteller. Using short takes and an MTV-worthy editing style, she (along with co-cutters Conor O’Neill and Clark Vogeler) crafts a thoroughly engaging narrative with completely captivating characters who‘re smart, funny and full of surprises. (Turns out the wildly glam Krye Tuff’s day job is as a government budget analyst! Who’da thunk?).

Further, Lipsitz lets you watch C Diddy perform often enough for you to understand that there’s consistency in his act– the gyrations and facial expressions are actually choreographed, and Diddy hits his marks every time.

You observe air guitar workshops, and are cued to the judges’ criteria, including contestants’ moves, dexterity, musicality and a somewhat intangible quality called ‘airness.‘

Much to her credit, Lipsitz presents the air guitar craze within the larger context of serious world events. She lets you know that Finnish students who founded the Air Guitar World Championships did so as an amusing goof, but also proclaimed if everyone in the world were holding air guitars, they couldn’t carry guns.

Similar points are made when Diddy and Bjorn admit concerns about the serious business of representing the US– not only the birth place of rock and roll, but also a principal gun-toter– in Finland where they fear they may face anti-American sentiments because of current government policies.

The film’s self-deprecating humor allows the slightly silly “make air, not war” message to settle in a rather profound way.

Still, “Air Guitar Nation’s” main thrust is fun– and it’s a blast and a half of that. After seeing the film, you might find yourself plucking at an imaginary instrument from time to time and even wondering about your own quality of ‘airness,‘

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).