by Guest Guest
March 21, 2010

Jack White likes to work within limitations.  In one of the most revealing interviews of The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights, Jack relays to us his passion for working within set limitations.  White explains that the color scheme of the band, (red, white, and black) the lack of members (Jack White and Meg White) and even the stage setup (he sets the keyboard and mics as far from him as possible) are all intentional choices to make for a more focused and forced creation.  Often these limitations result in unique moments that make The White Stripes one of the most entertaining live bands in the world.

It is surprising to me, however, that in celebration of their 2007 album Icky Thump, The White Stripes decided to embark on a national tour of one of the biggest countries in the world.  Surprising because not only did Jack want to tour Canada, he wanted to tour all of Canada and play a show in every province and territory, creating for himself an extremely large pallet to spread his brush.  Not exactly the most limiting of tour experiences.  Touring all of Canada is something that few Canadian bands have done, let alone a band as globally popular as The White Stripes.  It was something new, and it was exciting.  What resulted was nationwide excitement and a series of arena, bar, and, yes, bowling alley shows but also a raw, unfiltered, honest look at the band with Emmet Malloy’s film.

The film itself is a mixture of things.  It is part concert film, part tour documentary, part celebration of the bands ten years together, and a look at some very unique parts of the great white north.  I felt that Malloy wanted to show us his passion and connection to the band but failed to really hone in on one idea in particular.  What we get isn’t disappointing—far from it—but it does come off a little convoluted and a tad one-sided.  Emmet Malloy fails to show fans new to the band that The White Stripes haven’t changed in ten years.  He tells the viewer that the Stripes are still the same people with the same color scheme playing the same songs.

It would have been interesting to see more old footage of the band (there is some) versus some newer footage to showcase their connection to their roots.  Malloy has a great eye and heart but I think he didn’t really know what type of film he wanted to make.

This isn’t to say that the film is not entertaining—it is.  If you aren’t a fan of The White Stripes, it’s still worth the watch and you might come out of the experience with a new appreciation for the band.  I dare anyone to watch this movie and say that The White Stripes have no talent.  Jack goes onstage without a set list and makes the show up on the spot, giving each set has its own life.  That isn’t taught in music school.

Jack and Meg’s intense passion and connection to each other makes for some of the most interesting points in the film.  They are brother and sister (supposedly) but so much of their relationship lies beneath the surface.  They were apparently married at one point.  Are they lovers?  Were they really in love?  Are they still in love?  Is she still in love with him?  These are questions that we ask as we watch the film but these questions aren’t answered.  We are encouraged to simply to view the two and understand that their music is a result of their strange relationship.

Ah yes, the music.  I am a huge fan of The White Stripes and have been for close to six years.  I have seen them live a total of six times (three times on this tour) and was extremely happy to see that the energy they bring to their live show fully documented and showcased in this film.  The rawness of the sound, the beautiful mistakes, and the mish-mashed songs all make appearances in the film.  This is something I think their last concert film, Under Blackpool Lights, failed to do.  As a die hard White Stripes fan I can tell you the mistakes are the best moments of any White Stripes show.  An example: during the Edmonton show Jack forgot the next lyric during “We Are Going to Be Friends.”  The audience was singing along and he asked people in the front row to let him know what the next verse was.  Moments like these are unique to Stripes shows and create an atmosphere that the audience is a crucial part of their performance.  You can always tell when Jack is having a good time as he will often crack jokes or tell odd stories.  The film captures the enjoyment (and intensity) that Jack and Meg bring to their performances.

The Canadian tour featured what the DVD/CD liner notes refer to as “B Shows.”  These took place in youth hostels, town squares, a bowling alley, and a Winnipeg city bus.  These shows were planned on-the-fly and often resulted with eager fans chasing them around the city wondering where the shows would happen.  The “A Shows” usually took place in arenas, outdoor parks, and large convention centers and make up the majority of the concert and recorded footage here.  Some of my favorite performances during the film include “Catch Hell Blues” and “Slowly Turning into You.”  “The Union Forever”—meshed with footage from Citizen Cane—is a real treat for die hard fans.  The “B Shows” were especially cool to see and often left me wanting more.  They played some rare and older material at these shows including “Black Jack Davey,” “Apple Blossom” (sung to a toddler), “Screwdriver,” and Jack’s performance of “Lord, Send Me An Angel” to the Inuit Elders of Iqaluit.

The band travels in style, being driven around in fancy cars from the ‘50s.  They’re tailed by their road crew who don bowler hats and suits, making them look like the best dressed roadies in the business.  The White Stripes intentionally present themselves as if from a different time period, when things were simpler and mass communication was just a pipedream.  Listening to a Stripes album is always a trip.  One minute you are in a Louisiana bayou and the next moment you are in a basement club pumping your fist in the air.  I am glad to see that the film captured the sense that Jack and Meg White continue to create, despite being told that their “gimmick” is tired.

Under Great White Northern Lights is a film about the journey from one end of something to the other.  Whether this means the end of the band or a new chapter in the life of the band is still unclear as they have only made two public appearances since the tour’s end in ‘07.  So, how long can they keep doing this?  The answer to the mystery remains with The White Stripes.  Their relationships and Jack’s onscreen demeanor are things we aren’t sure if they are real or not.  It doesn’t matter because what they create out of this mystery isn’t a mystery at all.  It’s rock and roll, and what could be more lasting than that?

- Mr. Nice Marmot

Visit The White Stripes online: /


“We’re Going To Be Friends” clip

“Let’s Shake Hands” (live at Glace Bay, Nova Scotia)

Never trust a marmot. Support the artist and find out for yourself. encourages purchasing Under Great White Northern Lights locally at Red Cat Records in Vancouver, B.C, any independent record store of your choice or online here.


One Response to “Turncoat Turntable 020: The White Stripes – Under Great White Northern Lights (DVD)”

  1. [...] Muskrat (guest) She & Him – Volume Two by WestCoast Weasel The White Stripes – Under Great White Northern Lights (DVD) by Mr. Nice Marmot [...]

Write a Comment