The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights: Jack White Gets Even More Endearing...And So Does Meg
Just when you think it isn't humanly possible to love Jack (and Meg) White more than you do, go see the new "rock doc", Under Great White Northern Lights. Not only will you love them a little more, but you'll also find them more interesting, endearing, and even a little more eccentric than you did before.
The film was made over the course of the band's 2007 tour across Canada. In order to "fully experience" the country, the duo decided to play a show in every Canadian territory and province. They also decided that what would really make it special, finding towns that are smaller, and more out of the way than the larger metropolises bands usually visit. As you'll see in Northern Lights, the tour was filled with unique moments, including (but not limited to) the shortest concert in recorded history.
It was a show that consisted of a single note played in unison. The poor crowd had to find the secret location and had waited for some time to see the band. In the end, the crowd was left chanting, "One more note!" unsuccessfully.
This hour-and-a-half long foray into the ambitious -- and in many ways revolutionary tour -- gives fans a glimpse not only into the touring lives of Jack and Meg, but more importantly the dynamics of their strange and beautiful relationship. In traditional White Stripes style, the film is full of contrasts, visually and otherwise. Much of the footage is shown in black and white, and the Stripes' limited color palette combined with the pale faces and dark, dark hair of the subjects, creates sharp divides for the eye. Even the charter planes that shuttle the band and crew from town to town, and above the Arctic Circle, are painted red, black, and white.
What's also interesting is the distinct difference in personality between Jack and Meg. While both did not appear as overly talkative in any interview session, Jack did nearly all of the answering himself. Meg didn't speak for probably the first third of the film, and when she did, it was in such a muted voice that it required the assistance of subtitles to be audible. Much of the footage of the two when they weren't on stage involved them both sitting in comfortable silence together. It's the kind of moment that you can only share with someone with whom you're very close. It's the beauty of the lack of need for words that makes it special. The kind that existentialists like Samuel Beckett describe. It's there, but can't (and shouldn't) be articulated.
Though the two are divorced, they maintain that they are brother and sister, and thus bonded. While it may feel contrived and far fetched, the film convinced the audience of the sincerity of this bond. Whether they were married or not no longer matters. The closeness and comfort level between the two is sweet and innocent, and it makes perfect sense that they define their own relationship in this way.
Initially one is struck by the seeming passivity of Meg. She hardly talks, and is never the focus of attention. Even in the one scene when Jack tries to address the rumors that he doesn't let her speak during interviews, he can't help but interrupt her as she begins to respond. And yet, it also becomes increasingly clear that despite all of the criticisms people have of Meg and her drumming, it's she that makes the White Stripes what they are. I say this because the common denominator in the White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather is Jack. And these bands all sound different. What makes the White Stripes' songs so catchy, and what defines them even more than Jack's unique style, is that he is paired with Meg. Once the viewer realizes this, you gain a new appreciation for her.
As for Jack -- whether he's discussing all of the cities he's gone bowling in, eating raw caribou, or showing a room full of First Nations seniors the picture of Rita Hayworth pasted on the back of his guitar, he exudes a sense of genuineness. In the recent documentary, It Might Get Loud, which featured White, Jimmy Page, and The Edge, Jack talks about the need and desire to make music a struggle.
White purposefully uses old instruments that are difficult to keep in tune, seeing the extra challenge as a positive force on his playing. In this film, he further elaborates on this notion, explaining that he sets his keyboard just far enough from his microphone on stage that he has to run and jump from place to place to make the show work. He also keeps all of his picks on the back of the stage so that if he drops one, he has to run to get a new one. As a matter of principle, the White Stripes never use a set list. The analogy he made was that if you have a blank piece of paper and crayons all the colors of the rainbow, the creative process can actually become stale quite quickly, leaving one with few ideas even though there are many options. Instead, he limits himself in a number of different ways in order to force himself to create more.
Additionally, though he may be the coolest guy walking the planet at the moment, (he and Meg still managed to look relentlessly hip in freezing temperatures) one of the things White does not so is romanticize is his work. He recognizes that he has the career that he chose, and that others can only aspire to, and yet he still discusses it in terms of finding inspiration, and work. He knows that even if you have a job that you love, not every day will feel like a gift. Some days you just have to suck it up and work. And it's because he forces himself to do it that all of the good comes out of it.
One of the most touching scenes is in the end, when Jack is sitting at the piano and singing White Moon with Meg by his side. While she shares the piano bench with him, she does not sing, or even mouth the words. She is paralyzed by the tragic beauty that is the song. She sits there smiling as tears roll down her cheeks. And as he finishes, they both sit in silence for a moment before he grabs her and holds her to his shoulder. It is these kinds of moments that fill the spaces between concert footage, and what make the film truly special.
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