America has taken plenty of lumps lately. But this one still came as a punch to the gut. It turns out there has been a world championship of air guitar. And not only had an American never won the competition, until recently an American had never even entered. You grow up believing that pretending to play electric guitar is the very bedrock of your culture, then you find out we’re having our asses handed to us by Finland. That’s right. Finland. The world has been laughing at us because we don’t take air guitar seriously enough.
Director Alexandra Lipsitz apparently shares my feigned outrage, but actually had the ambition to turn it into the documentary, Air Guitar Nation begins by following the story of two men who discovered this Air Guitar gap, their journey to the Air Guitar World Championships in the fishing village of Oulu, Finland, and their return to the United States and subsequent creation of American Air Guitar competition. Then the film latches on to two other men — who go by the stage names Bjorn Touroque and C-Diddy — as they become locked in an epic battle to claim the mantle of America’s finest air guitarist, C-Diddy’s clear superiority letting him play Air Guitar Mozart to Bjorn’s Air Guitar Salieri. Then it’s back to Finland where the personal drama unfolds on an international stage to the blistering strains of Motorhead and the glimmering hope for world peace.
At the heart of this documentary, and it does have a surprising amount of heart, is the duality inherent in competitive air guitar. Of course it’s a joke. It’s air guitar. Unless, of course, it’s not a joke and really is a transcendental art form for people without the more tangible talent. It’s a little bit stupid, a little bit sweet. And like the final sonic assault of Freebird itself, it’s frankly irresistible. The declaration of American air guitar competition resulted almost instantly in television bookings and bemused articles in the Wall Street Journal. And everyone involved plays along with what appears to be mock gravity, though the film does venture into Spinal Tap territory when interviewing the European air guitar veterans who utter phrases like “the future of air guitar” and “keeping it real” with no apparent irony.
As a film, Air Guitar Nation never quite rises above its own suspicion that the subject matter is barely legitimate. But if the lesson is to just cut loose and enjoy the moment, point taken.
© 2007 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 5/9/07
Air Guitar Nation
U.S. - 2006