City Paper is not for tourists
Jack White plays badass rock ’n’ roll and talks about himself too much. Meg White plays badass rock ’n’ roll and doesn’t talk about herself enough. Together, they do this remarkable thing whereby they fill a ton of musical space with the sparest possible approach. Watching them do it onscreen is pretty priceless, especially with the nice understatement of director Emmet Malloy, who pays as much attention to lighting as he does to sound. Northern Lights is, in one sense, the latest entry in Jack White’s catalog of overcalculated oddities: a filmed tour of every province in Canada (which the band hadn’t done before) skewing toward those out-of-the-way places where, according to White, “the people are better.” (Presumably this statement includes a gathering of confused tribal elders in Iqaluit.) Filmed at a time when Icky Thump was making its way around the covers of the glossies, when the Dead Weather was just a black mote in White’s eye, and with no mention of the Raconteurs, the movie catches Meg and Jack at a point of commercial and artistic hyper-stability; though Jack White, who hasn’t as a rule done bad among music writers, gets curiously defensive about what the magazines have to say. Malloy keeps a tight frame over the duo’s improvisational, vertiginously loose stagework and also highlights White’s weird androgynous streak (remember: he took her name when they wed—not the other way around) with “Jolene” and “Black Jack Davey.” What the film doesn’t do is get Meg to say much more than a dozen words over 93 minutes. Amazing that such a highly publicized ex-couple can remain an engaging mystery, and that as shreddy as the concert footage gets, it’s not as interesting as watching Jack sit next to Meg on a piano bench, playing her a love song as she weeps.