Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights

It makes sense that the first full song performed in The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights would be “Let’s Shake Hands.” Emmett Malloy’s unusually stylish rock-doc is about The Stripes’ 2007 Canadian tour, during which they made a point of playing in remote towns and provinces—in every territory in the country, in fact—while finding time at each tour stop to make an unusual promotional appearance and meet some new friends. They played on city buses, boats, retirement homes, elementary schools, and bowling alleys, where they rolled a full game while rocking. The garage-rock duo even mounted one free daytime show in which they only played a single note.


Malloy mixes gorgeously grainy black-and-white and color footage of Jack and Meg White onstage and off; practically every shot in the movie could be blown up into a wall-sized poster. Granted, there’s nothing especially candid or unexpected in the interviews or travel scenes—which is a problem only because there’s so much of that footage in the movie—and it’s frustrating how Malloy strings together fragments of performances at various venues, only occasionally letting a song play out from start to finish. But between the meet-and-greets and the song-snippets, Malloy constructs two parallel narratives: one about Jack’s indomitable spirit of play, and one about Meg’s muted, possibly tortured soul. We see a lot of Meg sleeping or staring into space, and a little of her muttering responses in interviews—always subtitled—while Jack only half-mockingly yells, “Nobody can hear a goddamn word you say!” And in one of the few performances that plays from start to finish, Meg mysteriously breaks down crying while Jack plays his song “White Moon” on the piano.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of talk in Great White Northern Lights about how Jack White tightly controls the band’s image, while creating environments in the studio and onstage where spontaneity can breed. Jack even keeps his extra picks as far away from his mic as possible during a show, in part because he likes to work a little harder, and in part because he believes limitations foster creativity. (In that context, Meg’s presence in the band can be seen as an obstacle that Jack needs.) Jack’s fascination with constraints and fleeting moments fed the Stripes’ Icky Thump promotions in Canada. They had an element of contrivance, but that didn’t make it any less exciting for those fans who turned out and got a one-time-only experience. Even those who waited hours for The One-Note Show will have a story to tell for years to come, of how they joined their neighbors in thrusting their fists into the air and pleading, “One more note! One more note!”

Key features: Depends on which version of the set you buy; the DVD comes in a stripped-down version, or in a box set with a CD, a full live concert DVD, a 7” single, and a book. The CD is also available separately.