If I told you there's a camp in Finland devoted solely to the study of air guitar, would you think me a liar? After seeing it for myself in first-time director Alexandra Lipsitz' feature documentary Air Guitar Nation, I'm still not convinced it's real. But however absurd the whole notion of air guitar, in general, may be, the engaging narrative that unfolds under Lipsitz' curious lens is surprisingly compelling.
Nation traces the efforts of American friends Kriston Rucker and Cedric Devitt who, inspired by a Wall Street Journal story about the World Air Guitar Championships in Oulu, Finland, are determined to unearth the first Yank capable of shredding alongside the Europeans. The two surprise themselves when their qualifying heats in New York and Los Angeles are wildly successful, sold-out events attracting legions of air guitar worshippers.
At first, the best parts of the whole air guitar shtick are the competitors' personas. Bjorn Turoque (pronounced "born to rock"), the spastic punk-rock persona of droll New Yorker Dan Crane, figures prominently into the flick, which also features a Marilyn Manson-style god rocker in a wheelchair and the particularly skilled Krye Tuff (whose air guitar "catching" technique hits big with the judges).
But it's the winning personality of Brooklyn air-riff powerhouse David Jung that really drives Nation. The son of Korean immigrants, the actor-comic embraces his samurai alter-ego C-Diddy (aka Asian Fury) with such confidence that it's impossible not to be charmed as he kicks ass on all comers, on CNN, Jimmy Kimmel and Good Morning America.
The story's conflict rises when Bjorn Turoque becomes fixated on "avenging the defeats" he has suffered at the nimble fingers and pursed lips of the Asian Fury. After raising donation money (via a Web site), Turoque follows his nemesis all the way to Finland, determined to crash the championship finals. While this may feel like a simple device to advance the story, the competitive vibe between the two seems genuine as does Turoque's uncompromising lust for the air guitar crown. That, along with a political theme the two are the first Americans to compete in the nearly 10-year-old fest and an awesome soundtrack by Motörhead, Bowie, the Bags, Judas Priest and others, the totally bizarre Finnish air guitar camp, and some very funny (and drunk) European contestants, and you've got the makings of a joyful, lunacy-for-lunacy's-sake 81 minutes of entertainment.
"If I win," C-Diddy says of his championship ambitions, "I get to walk away and, for the rest of my life, I was the greatest in the world at something." Air Guitar Nation is a gentle reminder that, for all of our efforts to prove otherwise, life is absurd. Don't think about it too much and go big on the hammer-ons.Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre, inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237. It shows at 7p.m. Thursday, June 21; 7 and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 23; 4 and 7 p.m. on Sunday, June 24.
Wendy Case writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].