Judge Brendan Babish used to be a great air guitarist, but then he smashed his instrument in imitation of Pete Townsend.
"To err is human; to air guitar is divine."
Air Guitar Nation is a documentary by first-time director Alexandra Lipsitz. The film follows two American men on their journey to become the best air guitarist in the world—a title that is awarded annually at the Air Guitar World Championship in Finland.
This journey begins in New York City, where a small club hosts the East Coast Air Guitar Championship. Wearing an odd combination of martial arts gear and Hello Kitty regalia, David "C-Diddy" Young wins the contest, and is sent on to compete in the West Coast competition. However, the East Coast runner-up, Dan "Bjorn Turoque" Crane, is sent by the generous talk-show host Carson Daly to Los Angeles for a rematch with C-Diddy.
After the two men perform in the West Coast championship, they both move on to Finland, where the competition is especially fierce. The world championships began in 1996, and C-Diddy and Bjorn Torogue are the first Americans ever to compete. The Europeans have had a several years head start on the Americans, they take air guitar very seriously, and they really know how to thrash.
When C-Diddy and Bjorn meet up with their counterparts overseas, it only exacerbates the tension that runs throughout Air Guitar Nation. Some participants seem to be involved in air guitar for a laugh, while others view the practice with extreme reverence. Lipsitz does little to resolve this tension, as she gives ample face time to air guitar gurus who expound on the profundity of the act as well as participants who see air guitar as a forum to thrash around onstage and act like a loon.
One particularly devoted individual earnestly makes the case that air guitar is the only incorruptible art form in the world. This claim probably seems ridiculous to most, but it's one I was amendable to. I knew very little about air guitar before watching Air Guitar Nation, but it is an act that has given myself, and millions of talentless music fans across the world, great amounts of joy. How cool would it be if the act could actually be refined into a great art form?
That is the conceit periodically put forward by the film. But then C-Diddy saunters out his with tongue wagging and a Hello Kitty emblem emblazed across his chest and we're reminded that this is pretty much a forum for novelty acts. And these novelty acts aren't even that novel. While I commend C-Diddy for his energy and original persona, he doesn't exhibit any great, singular talent. His greatest asset seems to be a lack of self-consciousness, a skill that has been much devalued in the days of YouTube and reality television. But even the more sober contestants—those who speak of air guitar with reverence and deride those who perform for laughs—seem to channel Spinal Tap while on stage with their excessive head banging and bum wagging.
This leads me to wonder if the whole thing isn't just a big practical joke. Are these air guitar proponents putting Lipsitz (and her audience) on when they speak about the activity with such grandiloquence? If they are, that's fine, but the point should have been made more explicitly. If these people are sincere, and they really envision air guitar as a pure art form, then I just don't get it.
Air Guitar Nation comes with a nice little trove of extras, which should be especially welcome to those who can't get enough of the extroverted personalities of the air guitarists. There is about 40 minutes of footage of them clowning around at the world championships, as well as several additional performances from the unsuccessful contestants at the West Coast Air Guitar Championships. Additionally, the DVD's 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound helps enliven the documentary's surprisingly star-studded soundtrack, with songs by artists such as David Bowie, Queen, and the Who.
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