Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Air Guitar Nation
3 stars out of five
Dir: Alexandra Lipsitz
Cast: David "C-Diddy" Jung, Dan "Bjorn Turoque" Crane
A sweaty teenager collapses on a bed in a groaning heap after a vigorous workout. Afraid that his mother might discover his guilty pleasure he turns down the volume and slowly places his imaginary Fender Stratocaster into an imaginary guitar case.
Anyone who has ever pretended to play along with a guitar solo by one of their axe heroes will recognize this scene, and in Air Guitar Nation, director Alexandra Lipsitz takes air guitar playing out of the bedroom and onto the big screen.
The movie documents the story of two rock fans from the United States in their quest to become the 2003 world air guitar champion.
The mere existence of such an event is remarkable, yet every year since the early 1990s, Oulu, a small town in Finland, has hosted the World Air Guitar Championships. (Last month, Japanese comedian Yosuke Ochi took the title for the second year in a row.) Judging by the size of the audience, it's very popular, which is either an endorsement for a neglected pastime or a reflection on the local nightlife.
The documentary starts in the United States and focuses on David "C-Diddy" Jung and Dan "Bjorn Turoque" Crane, both of whom entered the 2002 U.S. Air Guitar Championships in New York and Los Angeles.
It's refreshing that neither comes across as being too nerdish and C-Diddy says that playing air guitar compensates for his complete lack of actual guitar-playing ability. Though Bjorn appears to take the championships rather too seriously at times, his good side ultimately shines through.
For a film that is driven by some of rock's heaviest music, the scenes from the U.S. contests, like a poorly-executed guitar solo, struggled to maintain my interest.
But once they cross the Atlantic the situation improves. One reason for this is the introduction of an international cast of air guitarists--mainly from Europe, though New Zealand and Australia both had representatives--some of whom have a genuine belief in the "art" of air guitar technique. Ian "The Red Plectrum" Stafford, however, admits that his participation in the event is connected to his day job as a freelance journalist in England.
Participants are offered the chance to attend a pretournament training camp--yes, really--in which previous winners offer tips on the best air guitar techniques.
Of course, there's no shortage of music, though vocals must give way to the invisible strings. The usual suspects are all there--Kiss, Boston, Judas Priest, Queen--though tracks by David Bowie and the Smashing Pumpkins suggest that even alternative rock fans can emulate their axe heroes.
As the competition progressed, I found the unfolding drama surprisingly compelling and even started rooting for some of the contestants, though I managed to stop myself from assuming the pose as Motorhead belted out from the stage.
Air Guitar Nation ends on a political note, with all the participants uniting as one against the war in Iraq. As cliched as that sounds, there seemed to be a genuine feeling of camaraderie. When Bjorn pleads for everyone to, "Make air, not war" you'd have to be a pretty hard-headed cynic not to agree with him.
The movie opens Saturday.
(Oct. 5, 2007)