Film Review: Air Guitar Nation

by Chris CoolingAir guitar is weird. That is the first thing that you will think on watching this docu-film. All of us are probably guilty of a little air guitar action at some point, whether alone in our rooms or suitably inebriated at a club, but Air Guitar Nation aims to bring us the story of the real pros as they battle first to become American top-dog and eventually world champion. Performances are energetic, genuinely impressive and, above all, highly entertaining. Gimmicks, whether feigning disability only to jump out of their wheel-chair mid-show or performing naked are examples of just how far these virtuoso air guitarists are willing to go to get an edge. Some truly disturbing sights are on offer as men and women who should really know better squeeze into outlandish costumes and rock out on-stage to crowds of up to 5000 cheering people. The effect on the viewer is one of bewildered amazement.

However, at 80 minutes long, film-maker Alexandra Lipsitz correctly concludes that the shows need to be fleshed out with the human side of the story. Chief among this is the rivalry between the eventual champion C-Diddy and perpetual runner-up Björn Türoke. Despite sporting a massive superiority complex, Björn is seemingly beaten by Diddy at every turn, having to try three times to qualify for the world championships-building up sympathy with the viewer in the same vein as Dick Dastardly. After the final the pair shake hands with new-found respect in a way which is actually quite touching. Sadly, not all stories are of such interesting nature. Watching a contestant going to visit his parents is not particularly enthralling and the American qualifying rounds lack excitement, causing the first half-hour to chug somewhat.

When the contestants reach Finland, however, the true nature of air guitar becomes clear. America are new-comers to the competition, which is in its seventh year by the time of 2003 tournament, and are met with some misgivings, partially due to the arrogance both entrants display and partially due to a general mistrust of Americans due to the recent occurrence of the Iraq War. This particular point is emphasised in a montage of war images set to ‘More Than a Feeling’ by Boston, treading a fine line between poignant political comment and cheesy pandering to public opinion.

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The film, as a whole, is technically well-put together with title, sub-titles and captions suitably garish and in keeping wit the flamboyant nature of the air guitar genre. Despite the slightly tacked together nature common to most documentaries the viewer builds up an understanding and empathy with the competitors as they let out their inner rock-star personas on stage. However, the fact remains that without the amusing mime which is air guitar the show would not maintain interest for its duration. Insistence by the contest’s founding fathers that air guitar is the only true (read non-commercialised) art form remaining will raise a smile, as will their assertions that said art form can lead to world peace. Is the film worth watching though? If you purely want to marvel at the eccentricity of air guitar performances you’re better trying youtube. If you do watch the film you’ll likely come away with a smile on your face from the amusing performances and sense of sincere hippy-like world peace. As they say in Oulu, ‘Make Air not War’.