Air Guitar Nation

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 04/25/07 01:38:20

"Rock on."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2007 DEEP FOCUS FILM FESTIVAL: A confession: on my way home from viewing “Air Guitar Nation,” I did a little air guitar right there in the car. Of course I did. How could anyone resist a little fantasy shredding after watching the champions of the art form go head to head?

Air guitar is, of course, a national pastime, born from the mighty power of rock and/or roll. There are other forms of rocking out without an instrument - I hold steady in my belief that everyone reading this has gone air drum crazy with “In the Air Tonight” at least once - but air guitar reigns supreme. Sometimes it’s a pure reflex of listening to the music.

For “Air Guitar Nation,” filmmaker Alexandra Lipsitz follows the mighty road to the 2003 World Air Guitar Championships. You read that right: every year, thousands of people converge in Oulu, Finland, to watch a select handful of representatives from nations across the globe as they rock out on their imaginary axes. The contest began as a call for world peace (if you’re holding an air guitar, you can’t hold a gun), and even though there’s plenty of tongue-in-cheek involved, there’s plenty of earnestness about it all - winners even attend a week-long camp devoted to the artistry, physicality, and philosophy of air.

The championships never had an American delegation until 2003, when Kriston Rucker and Cedric Devitt (who visited the training camp a year earlier out of curiosity) decided to finally bring U.S. rock power to the global stage. This was at the dawn of the Iraq war and a peak of anti-American sentiment; would Yankees be welcome at such an event? (Short answer: after some weariness, yes. Rock heals all wounds.)

Rucker and Devitt created two regional finals, one in New York, the other in Los Angeles, and here’s where our movie kicks into gear. In New York, we meet the sport’s two most colorful contestants: David Jung, a comedian/actor who shreds on stage as “C-Diddy,” a rock god in silk robe and Hello Kitty chest plate; and Dan Crane, a writer/musician whose “Björn Türoque” character will be familiar to those of you who own the “Bill and Ted’s Most Excellent Collection” DVD box set.

And there’s the secret of air guitar. The championships ride a very thin line between self-seriousness and over-the-top irony. When we first meet our two stars, they’re a couple of sarcastic, faux-sincere smartasses, talking up their own greatness and belittling the others in a fit of celebrity rivalry at its nuttiest. The routines seen throughout the American finals are one part genuine love for the music, one part complete mockery of it - almost all the routines trash hair metal while praising its grandness.

But as the movie continues, we discover what Jung and Crane have discovered, that these contests actually have a straight side. As Crane continues to enter contest after contest in an attempt to claim a title he feels belongs to him, we slowly understand that it’s not all part of an act. This isn’t just Björn Türoque’s dimwitted posturing - Crane really does want to win this thing, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get there.

When the duo arrive in Finland, the big fear among the other contestants is that the ugly Americans will turn this event into a comedy. One entrant bemoans the use of sarcasm or ridicule in air guitar, which, in his eyes, is no laughing matter. And wouldn’t you know it, the Americans figure this out.

Of course, taking air guitar seriously doesn’t mean taking it seriously, if you follow me. Lipsitz is quick to pick up on the insanity of the entire event - you haven’t lived until you’ve seen naked air guitar - and she treats her subjects with a welcome degree of respect. “Air Guitar Nation” could have quickly devolved into a series of snide point-and-laugh moments, yet it’s quick to laugh with the contestants, not at them. And that’s the ultimate beauty of the film. Lipsitz sees them as honest people wiggling through sarcastic rock posing, and she lets both sides shine equally.

It’s mostly about heart. (Who wouldn’t want to be, if only for a moment, the world’s best anything?) And for a while, C-Diddy and Björn Türoque were two of the world’s best fake rockers, and “Air Guitar Nation” is a giddy little celebration of that bizarre yet endlessly endearing fact. When one character cheerfully announces he wants to “out-weird the world,” we want to let him know we’re right there for him.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.