Born of reality TVs 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 theyd take on The Red Plectrum (GB), The Torbinator (NZ), Mr. Metalilizer (Austria) and other national champs for the international title of worlds 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 youre not an air guitar buff– and, honestly, how many of us are?– youre 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 docs 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 Dannys performances to mime. Some competitors suggest air guitar is Olympics-level sport, others call it meditation. One proclaims its the perfect performance art because its invisible, transforming nothingness into something ephemerally tangible. Okay. If you say so.
Fact is, the films very entertaining. Lipsitz is a good storyteller. Using short takes and an MTV-worthy editing style, she (along with co-cutters Conor ONeill and Clark Vogeler) crafts a thoroughly engaging narrative with completely captivating characters whore smart, funny and full of surprises. (Turns out the wildly glam Krye Tuffs day job is as a government budget analyst! Whoda thunk?).
Further, Lipsitz lets you watch C Diddy perform often enough for you to understand that theres 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 couldnt 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 films self-deprecating humor allows the slightly silly make air, not war message to settle in a rather profound way.
Still, Air Guitar Nations main thrust is fun– and its 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,