review of White Stripes doc "Under Great White Northern Lights"

The Seeker of Good Songs

Well-Known Member
Near the beginning of The White Stripes‘ documentary Under Great White Northern Lights, Jack White describes his reasons for the band’s epic 2007 tour of Canada:
Having never done a tour of Canada, Meg and I thought it was high time to go whole hog…from the ocean to the permafrost…We wanted to play out of the way towns that don’t usually get shows…the shows are better, it’s better for the people, it’s a better experience, it’s way more unique, something interesting is going to happen…hopefully.
These are fantastic reasons and an admirable goal: playing for their fans that may not be able to travel hundreds of miles to see one of their shows. But it was not only that. The White Stripes also played free spur of the moment shows in each town they stopped in so that not only could their fans see them, but also they could see them for free in a park or a bar or a bowling alley. Respect and loyalty to fans are things I enjoy most about bands. If I love a group, then see them live, and they’re dicks, I don’t enjoy the music as much. The same is true the other way around. If I am only moderately a fan, and then see someone live being incredibly gracious to fans, I am instantly hooked (case in point: Andrew WK).
In Under Great White Northern Lights you see a lot more than just a devotion to fans. You get an inward glance on a band that is otherwise private and closed off—even if it is just a passing glance. That passing glance, however, was enough for me to see the band in a completely different light than I had in the past—and it isn’t always the best light.
First off, I have been a pretty big supporter of most all things Jack White. I really enjoy The White Stripes, The Raconteurs have some solid songs, The Dead Weather kind of creep me out but are good, and White’s work on the newest James Bond theme is incredible. I really enjoyed this documentary, not only as a chronicle of The White Stripes’ tour, but also as a chronicle of the band’s 10-years together. Also, the concert footage is amazing. Director Emmett Malloy does an incredible job of mixing digital shots with 16mm shots to compliment the band’s high-energy stage show, and also to create some amazing quiet, introspective moments with just White and his drummer/ex-wife Meg White.
I will say this: If you aren’t a huge fan of The White Stripes in general and/or think Jack White is kind of a full-of-himself-prick, you probably won’t like this documentary. I have read a lot of interviews with White and I know that he can come off as pretty egotistical and self-involved. I can imagine that if I had the same amount of talent and determination I would come off as the same…but that’s beside the point and I can’t condone that kind of attitude. This documentary doesn’t do much to help that image of White, but it does help a little.
White has his moments of humor and light-heartedness, and there are some amazing scenes between he and Meg joking around and prodding each other that are highly entertaining, leaving you to forget about the ego that is Jack White. Where the humor slides back and the ego comes out are mostly during the interview portions of the movie—with Malloy laying in the background on a bed in an old hunting shack while Jack and Meg sit in front of the camera in the foreground answering questions. And by Jack and Meg answering questions, I mean Jack talking at length and Meg sitting by his side, smiling, hair in her face, quiet, laughing at his jokes…her usual place. But I’ll come back to Meg later on.
When Jack is at his worst (which still isn’t so bad…I mean he’s no Billy Corgan) is when he’s answering questions about the band and their image. White spends a good portion of time defending himself and Meg from critics who say everything in the band is premeditated, that they are just a gimmick, and that they are just a “flash in the pan.” At times he makes good points, especially in regards to being a “flash in the pan.” White states that they must be doing something right and they should be past that moniker since they are on their sixth studio album and still going strong. However, when it comes to talking about things being premeditated, he seems to move into a braggart mode that just made me roll my eyes. Things like how the band doesn’t make set lists, and how White makes things purposefully difficult for himself so he can “keep learning”—even going as far as to moving his organs and pianos just far enough away so he has to reach a little farther to play them on stage (but as my friend pointed out after viewing the movie: White does that but also has multiple microphones on stage so he is never more than a head turn away from having his voice heard). But again, it isn’t that bad. There are bigger egos with less talent spouting off on a more regular basis than Jack White. I didn’t let this distract me from the amazing footage.
Oh and he still claims, despite concrete evidence otherwise, that he and Meg are brother and sister. I mean…come on. We have seen your marriage license.
Which brings me back to my earlier note on Meg White, and also other things that aren’t in the best light. So I know that Meg isn’t the greatest drummer in the world. It’s obvious. Everyone notices it, but she works in the aesthetic of the band and I always thought that she and Jack work together well. Here is where the movie made me rethink everything. About halfway through, during a scene where Jack and Meg walk across the frozen tundra of northern Canada, to which Jack is in front and Meg is behind keeping up, I began feeling incredibly sorry for Meg. Throughout the movie, she is doting on his every word, smiling at him, following his orders, and being his right hand girl in everything.
There were key points that made me feel this way for sure. One point were all the scenes of them walking around and him always leading the way. Also with those are the scenes where they are interviewing together. Meg rarely says anything during the film. When she does, she is poorly mic’d so all her words are subtitled. At one point, Jack comments on how everyone says he never allows her to talk. He looks to Meg, and says, “Go on and tell them that isn’t true.” She begins to say something and Jack interrupts her, and once he allows her to talk, she just says, “I’m just a quiet person. I’m shy.” She starts to explain further and he interrupts again and doesn’t ever let her finish.
Another point is their interactions on stage together. They do work well together, yes, but it is through Jack’s orders. There are many scenes of them on stage and Jack barking orders at Meg between and even during songs. At one point he even says over the microphone, “Let’s play this one faster Meg,” and after the show talks about how he felt weird during the show, that everything felt off, and that the tempos felt off. All the while, Meg just sits around smoking saying, “I thought it all sounded fine.” It was a sort of awkward moment between them that I’m sure Malloy left in to show their interactions and also to make Jack out to be a perfectionist. To me, it just came off as unnecessarily critical and sort of a passive aggressive slight at Meg.

(continued below do to length of text)


The Seeker of Good Songs

Well-Known Member
Re: review of White Stripes docu "Under Great White Northern Lights"

(continued from above)

The final and ultimate scene that supported my sorrow for Meg was at the very end of the film. The last part of the movie is covering The White Stripes tenth anniversary show near the end of their tour. It is a triumphant gig for the band with shots of their first show ever, celebrating backstage before the show, and a final dance between Jack and Meg on stage after the show. The pain comes in the next scene, the final scene, where Jack and Meg are sitting in a studio in one of many scenes of the two of them in a small room while Jack plays music. The difference is in this particular scene Jack is playing “White Moon” off of their newest album Icky Thump on a piano, and as the scene goes on you notice Meg crying. It keeps going for a few more minutes of Jack playing and Meg sitting on the piano bench next to him crying. Not just a few tears either. She is on the verge of a full fledge sob session. Jack finishes the song, looks over to her, gives her a hug, releases, she keeps crying, he hugs her again this time tightly with a kiss on her head. She continues to cry in his arms and then suddenly the title card pops up and the credits role.
That’s it. The scene over. No explanation. No words from either of them just the song and Meg crying her eyes out. It could be that it was just a particularly moving rendition of the song and she really enjoyed it. Could be, but with the rest of the movie behind it, it is a sad scene that sort of tells me this: She still loves him. I don’t want to play counselor or psychiatrist, but with Jack running the show for the last 10 years it makes me wonder. Who initiated the divorce? Jack got remarried, but what has Meg been doing? The White Stripes is all she has while Jack is off playing in other bands, producing albums for Loretta Lynn, and possibly collaborating with Jay-Z. What has Meg been doing? It just makes me feel incredibly sorry for her. Look at it with this in mind, shortly after this Canadian tour the band canceled their US tour due to Meg White’s “acute anxiety” and her inability to travel for the tour. Is that just a spokesperson’s spin? Or Meg’s spin? They did eventually tour after that, but was that scene of her crying a last straw for her? One from which she needed to recover? She did recover, but the band has yet to tour again. She also got married last year…in Jack White’s backyard in Nashville.
None of this takes away from the enjoyment of the movie. Not at all. It is a fantastic documentary and concert film, and I definitely recommend it. However, just be prepared to think about things. Go into it with these thoughts that I’ve laid out in your head, and let me know if you see it too. Go watch it, and comment back on here to let me know if you noticed the same thing. I’m always ready to be told I’ve read too much into it. Maybe it’s just because I secretly love Meg. Call me, Meg.


Je Suis Julie
My boxed set arrived today! The shipping carton is marked # 22 of 1750. It's beautifully packaged and designed.



The booklet is illustrated with a Wizard of Oz motif (much to my Oz-lovin' daughter's delight):

The set includes 2 large vinyls and this red vinyl 7":

A poster propped up above the photo book:

Litho and a page from the book:

More photos:

And now I'm going to watch the DVD.
With very high expectations!
Lovely, mines arrived on Monday. It is quite an outstanding package. My 7" is on white vinyl and it has a different sleeve and I got the Meg/Jack on a boat print. I'm sure you will love the dvd, I haven't watched the live concert dvd yet, saving that for the weekend. :guitar:

Je Suis Julie
I'm gonna watch the full concert this weekend, too :guitar:

OK, so I went into this DVD knowing the ending, so I was determined not to cry.

During the first half I thought - why is everyone raving about this? It's excellent footage, beautifully filmed, etc. But what is it that has sent so many reviewers into such a frenzy?

But it's very subtle, and as the film unravels the emotional undercurrent becomes more powerful and by the end I, too, was a blubbering mess.

Most of us are familiar with the emotional story behind the band - everyone knows they aren't brother and sister even though they continue with the facade. What this film brilliantly shows is what has never been said (publicly) between the two of them - and I imagine they weren't even aware that this side of their relationship was being captured.

The REAL star of the film is Meg. Her silence. Her depression. And in the end - on the night of their 10th anniversary as a band - they open presents, they cut the cake, they do the waltz. "Really, nothing has changed" says the interviewer. But the silent glance they exchange in response says it all. I've read that the final piano serenade by Jack was impromptu. But even if it wasn't, it's still one of the most raw, truly emotional scenes ever captured on film.

It's all the sadness and joy of two people who will always share a special, almost mystical, musical bond. Sooo beautiful!!!!


Junior Member
"Oh and he still claims, despite concrete evidence otherwise, that he and Meg are brother and sister. I mean…come on. We have seen your marriage license."

He knows that we know. I've always taken him to mean they're spiritual siblings.

I dunno about that reviewer, seems highly presumptuous - not to mention offensive - to imply that Meg's marriage to Patti Smith's boy is somehow second-best for her, not her heart's desire. Maybe he (the reviewer) is letting his Meg-lust blind him. He wouldn't be the first - she's a heartthrob to many a man.

Cue: Ray LaMontagne's "Meg White"

Je Suis Julie

"Jack White on making beautiful music with his ex-wife Meg"
March 14, 2010

“Is it possible for a brother and sister to dress in only red, white and black, play blues music with no computers or samples, travel across the Arctic to places other bands would be scared to venture, play free shows everyday at random locations, and not be the biggest thing since The Beatles?” asks Jack White.

“The answer,” he says, “is clear.”

Since the duo’s first Detroit gig at an open-mike night back in 1997 and across six studio albums, the White Stripes — singer-guitarist Jack and his drummer and ex-wife Meg White (they now weirdly describe themselves as siblings) — have dutifully abided by Jack’s Rules of Threes. All clothes, gear, instruments and accoutrements are limited to three colors: red, black and white. Songs have just three sounds: guitar, drums and vocals. Roadies wear three-piece suits. It all feels a bit O-C-D.

Tuesday’s “Under Great White Northern Lights,” the duo’s first release since 2007’s “Icky Thump,” conforms to the code, too. It’s even issued in three different formats: audio (CDs and a double LP), video (concert and documentary DVDs) and print (a 208-page book, plus a silk-screened photo).

It’s issued by Warner Bros. and Third Man, Jack’s Nashville-based boutique label that specializes in handmade vinyl. (And, yes, it derives its name from the number 3).

“It’s us having a plethora of film and music at our table that we decided to put in a curry and bake it at 300 degrees,” Jack, 34, tells The Post. “There are dessert treats in there, too, for those fans that hate their vegetables. All kinds of exclusive vinyl and artwork. This isn’t some Internet mirage, either — you can hold these things in your hands just like Grandpa did.”

Audiowise, it’s the band’s first-ever live release, documenting a tour through every province and territory in Canada, including: a five-pin bowling alley in Saskatoon; a 40-foot fishing boat called the “Annandale Light” off of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; and a rec-center acoustic jam in Nunnavut with Inuit elders, who fed Jack raw caribou.

“The strange locations made for the most intriguing and inspiring moments for us,” Jack says. “You tend to play songs in a bowling alley that you wouldn’t at home with mother in the parlor.”

His favorite performance?

“I like the show that was only one note,” he says, referring to a ridiculously brief, albeit free show in St. John, New Brunswick. “The crowd got their money’s worth on that one.”

The concert footage captures unhinged performances of songs that span the band’s career, demonstrating why Meg’s minimalist percussion and Jack’s colicky blues guitar have earned the Stripes respect from critics and rock titans alike. Jack jammed with Jimmy Page and U2’s The Edge in the film “It Might Get Loud” and shared a stage with the Rolling Stones in Martin Scorsese’s “Shine a Light.” The duo has won three Grammys and sold more than 12 million records.

The box set is also a multimedia monument to the bond between a former husband and wife whose music outlasted their romance.

The Canada tour did, however, end in cancellations and the painfully shy Meg suffering from acute anxiety. In the rare moments when she whispers, viewers need subtitles to understand what she’s muttering. By the end, the cracks in her psyche are showing. Following their 10th anniversary concert in Nova Scotia, Meg sits next to Jack at a piano while he plays “White Moon.” Tears stream down her face.

“Her femininity and extreme minimalism are too much to take for some metal heads and reverse-contrarian hipsters,” Jack says. “She can do what those with ‘technical prowess’ can’t. She inspires people to bash on pots and pans. For that, they repay her with gossip and judgment. In the end she’s laughing all the way to the Prada handbag store. She wins every time.”
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