Air Guitar. A sport of the gods or an absurd diversion for attention whores? The documentary "Air Guitar Nation" makes a solid case for both arguments.
While it has enraptured the international theater with its dynamic audience-pleasing supremacy, in 2003, Air Guitar was only taking its first baby steps toward legitimacy in America. This new documentary steps behind the imaginary amps to focus on a handful of competitors as they endeavor to shine bright enough in America to travel to Oulu, Finland and compete in the World Air Guitar Championship. The rivalry is fierce, the licks as heavy as they make 'em, and the instruments are...the limits of the imagination.
Directed by Alexandra Lipsitz, "Nation" isn't a joke, though at first, you'd be hard pressed to believe it. Here is an underground society that worships the power of the invisible axe and the beauty of the performers that bring it to life. It a great big gob of cultural used chewing gum that takes time to work with, but soon the flavors start to come out, and Lipsitz's enthusiasm squashes all the fears that "Nation" is merely a seamless goof; a mutant child of Christopher Guest, starring a horde of sweaty failed actors and future alcoholics.
"Nation" follows the dueling dreams of guitarists C-Diddy (David Jung) and Bjorn Turoque (Dan Crane) as they battle on the stage to be crowned not only the best guitarist in America (a continental first), but world champion as well. Like all the entrants, Diddy and Bjorn are colorful men just looking for a creative outlet that their regular lives do not provide. C-Diddy is the aspiring actor; a Korean man stuck between the demands of his strict family and his ferocious goofball attitude. Bjorn is a far more ambitious persona, looking to make the sport his own through a broad display of genuine ego and panhandled motivation.
Through these two men, Lipsitz hopes to provide the viewer with a wider peek at this unheralded sport. And when I say sport, I know it sounds funny, but these competitors work their tails off onstage trying to whip baffled crowds into a frenzy and to out-spaz each other with their performances. The act of Air Guitaring is a strange one to witness at first: take your average unemployed grad student, bedazzle the stuffing out of him (or her, but the movie is light on female participation), and queue up a meaty slice of metal (preferably something that would make Eddie Van Halen sweat) and kaboom! The "airsician" is off to the races in a blur of entertaining flying-finger sprinting, gleeful music appreciation, and general anarchic interpretation. It's wild to behold, and even stranger to celebrate.
However, Lipsitz makes you believe in the whole shebang. Following C-Diddy and Bjorn through their victories and defeats, "Nation" grabs the viewer and gets them involved in the lives of these, for all intents and purposes, weirdos. The director tries to draw the line between the humble man and their wild stage personas, and explores the dedication made to Air Guitar with footage from a camp in Finland where participants eat and breathe the sport all day, reveling in the tension as C-Diddy rises to fame while Bjorn is left desperate and broken.
"Nation" is a wonderfully wild ride of a documentary, and the greatest trick of the picture is found in how it makes the audience succumb to the power of the sport. Air Guitar is inherently goofy no matter how you look at it, but "Air Guitar Nation" will have you on your feet energetically jamming to "Ace of Spades" along with the participants in no time.
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