Punk helped democratize music by prizing energy over virtuosity. Competitive air guitar takes that democratization even further by removing musicianship and actual playing altogether. The flamboyant pantomimed shredding in the sprightly, crowd-pleasing new documentary Air Guitar Nation is all about swagger and posturing, completely divorced from the tricky business of playing or recording music. It's stage vamping as a playful new medium in itself, a kind of goofball performance art for those who never lost touch with their inner children. The film takes a bemused, affectionate look at the national and international Air Guitar Championships; it's simultaneously smirking and sincere, silly and semi-serious, playful and mock-profound. Competitive air guitar started as an elaborate goof, but it quickly took on a life of its own.
Nation centers on the fierce competition between David "C-Diddy" Jung, an Exeter-schooled actor and comedian confident enough in his own masculinity to rock out with a Hello Kitty breastplate affixed to his chest, and Dan "Björn Türoque" Crane, his eternal challenger and perennial runner-up, a real-life guitarist and writer with an insatiable appetite for competition. Jung dominates the American finals with his crowd-pleasing antics, wild outfits, and campy humor, but inveterate self-promoter Crane refuses to give up, stalking Jung around the country even after losing to him repeatedly, and following him to the national championships in Finland.
At best, the air-guitar heroes perform with an infectious, childlike sense of joy. Fearless performers like Jung and Crane tap into something pure and irresistible at the heart of rock 'n' roll; they're living out the dreams of every closet rock star who ever strutted around an apartment pretending to be Chuck Berry or pondered how sweet it would be to gain the accolades of rock stardom without having to sing or play an instrument. In Air Guitar Nation, the axes are fake, but the reverence and love for rock is palpable. Satan would approve.
Key features: Thirty-seven minutes of nifty deleted scenes fleshing out the air-guitar subculture and Crane and Jung's post-championship careers.