The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights


Marriage, sexual ambiguity, and the distant, muted foxiness of the band’s drummer have been the subtext of every White Stripes album (and review thereof) ever written. So is it any surprise that Emmett Malloy’s Under Great White Northern Lights, despite having the most promising setup of any concert film since Gimme Shelter, boils down to a scene in which the duo shares a piano bench, silent tears running down Meg’s face while Jack plays “White Moon” to an otherwise empty room? Given a documentary filmmaker’s dream tour—a 2007 province-wide Canadian arena circuit, with daytime stops for shows at everywhere from a YMCA day camp in Toronto to a bowling alley in Saskatoon—the director instead takes the Dont Look Back route, filming mostly in black-and-white (and red), cataloging all the different ways two people can be lonely. While the Canadians obligingly provide local color (“They have the sharpest-dressed roadies we’ve ever seen,” says one awed White Horse radio reporter), Meg speaks so sparingly and softly that she gets her own subtitles. For his part, Jack works it out onstage, in some of the most subtly shot and well-recorded concert footage ever from a band not named the Rolling Stones. Three months later, the White Stripes would cancel the rest of this tour, citing “acute anxiety” problems. They haven’t really been heard from since.

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