DVD Review IAir Guitar Nation/I

New York (August 16, 2007)--Tonight finds New York City hosting the fifth annual U.S. Air Guitar National Championships, bringing together the country's 14 regional finalists for an event that is unabashedly dumb and bizarre, yet which grows in popularity with every passing year. Sadly, we have no idea what kind of sound system the evening's instruments will not be heard through, so instead, let's talk about Air Guitar Nation (Documrama Films; $26.95), a new documentary coming out August 28 on DVD. The film follows the first year of U.S. competition, and much like the titular instrument itself, this flick is about as light as it gets.
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New York (August 16, 2007)--Tonight finds New York City hosting the fifth annual U.S. Air Guitar National Championships, bringing together the country’s 14 regional finalists for an event that is unabashedly dumb and bizarre, yet which grows in popularity with every passing year. Sadly, we have no idea what kind of sound system the evening’s instruments will not be heard through, so instead, let’s talk about Air Guitar Nation (Documrama Films; $26.95), a new documentary coming out August 28 on DVD. The film follows the first year of U.S. competition, and much like the titular instrument itself, this flick is about as light as it gets.

It used to be that in order to be a red hot guitarist, you needed practice and, heaven forbid, talent. Everyone else could take the lamer’s way out and simply writhe around their bedrooms, wailing on imaginary axes. Now it seems you need practice and talent just to do that too (which is right about when modern life begins to implode for being too complicated for its own good).

You see, in Oulu, Finland--where apparently there are far fewer things to do per capita than anywhere else--they’ve been holding the World Air Guitar Championships since the early ’90s. Since then, the event has grown so popular that over 5,000 people show up every year to watch the world’s greatest pseudo-shredders go head-to-head (again, far fewer things to do…). Until five years ago, however, there had never been a U.S. competitor--because there had never been a U.S. championship. Sensing a void yearning to be filled, a pair of TV producers got the rights, held play-offs and attempted to turn it all into a series for VH1; the pilot failed, ultimately paving the way for this film instead.

Primarily, AGN follows actor David Jung and software programmer/musician Dan Crane as they create alter-egos (airgos?) who compete against each other across the U.S. and, ultimately, in Oulu. Jung turns himself into the false rock god C-Diddy, complete with Hello Kitty breastplate, while Crane dubs himself Björn Türoque (Born To Rock--get it?), a scrappy character reminiscent of Woody Allen if he’d spent the Seventies downtown at CBGB’s instead of uptown at Elaine’s.

Throughout the film, their quests to be the best mirror the also-ran nature of air guitar itself, as the two performers wind up on second-rate talk shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live and Later with Carson Daly, before heading to Oulu for pre-championship Air Guitar Bootcamp (yes, really), where they discover their international competition is far more serious than expected.

What comes across more than anything, however, is that for all the homemade choreography and flailing fingers, the key to winning is in the choice of song “performed.” For instance, C-Diddy takes on the metal/classical music hybrid “Play With Me” by Extreme, from the obscure soundtrack to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Played in reality by Nuno Bettencourt, the technically audacious yet merrily ridiculous piece inevitably brings a smile to the viewer’s face every time it’s heard--and in a wise move, the filmmakers include it every chance they get.

Will C-Diddy, who sweeps the U.S. competition, bring it all home at the World Championships? Will Björn Türoque make a surprise comeback and steal the title for himself? Far be it for PSN to give away the ending--providing you get there; at 81 minutes, it’s still half-an-hour too long (proving that it really should have been a TV show), and culminates in a seemingly endless stream of montages, all consisting of thirty-something men (poorly) executing moves copped from metal videos on VH1 Classic. Even so, the flick is usually enjoyable and always good natured about its topic, providing yet another bit of proof that dreams, however slight--and slightly ludicrous--they may be, do come true.

--Clive Young

Air Guitar Nation
www.airguitarnation.com