I am awake and busy at midnight most nights. It’s a good creative time for me and if I wouldn’t be waking up most of the rest of the household I would do even more, like play drums or vacuum or probably use the vacuum as drums. But it did feel a bit funny to go out last night, a Thursday, to see a movie at MIDNIGHT, leaving Couch Teen in charge of his sleeping siblings. Why would I go out midweek to see some MOVIE? Oh ho ho ho, I will tell you why: because this was a one-off screening of Emmett Malloy’s new film about The White Stripes’ 2007 Canadian tour, entitled “Under Great White Northern Lights.” Like I was going to miss THAT! NO WAY!

Well, I really almost did miss it, as did most everyone else in Seattle it seems, because there were just a handful of us gathered at the AMC Pacific Place 11 theater last night. There was no notice of this screening at the White Stripes’ official site, and although I am pretty thorough about sifting and searching for info about events I want to see, this showing would have gone past me, as the one at the Northwest Film Festival did last month. It was only because of a FACEBOOK SIDEBAR AD on my home page that I saw late late late Wednesday night that I was made aware of the showing. I went all, wut, and then WUT???!!!, and then purchased tickets, feeling like someone had just handed me a thousand bucks and a box of candy. I love the White Stripes, and was very much looking forward to seeing the film, and I wanted to see it in a proper theater. And so I did, in the middle of a rainy Seattle night.

I am still just amazed by the fact that this particular band, if you can call two people, a guitar, and a drumset a band (p.s. yes you can, btw), has this major career, 10+ years now. There is hardly another act I can think of outside a few from the corporate pop machine slimeworks that gets as much attention for anything they do. Why? The music they make is not exactly made for the masses. It is, in many ways, harsh – dissonant, loud, brash, screeching, thumping, almost violent, daring you to listen, daring you to take it. Yet the very same band can write and perform the sweetest of child-like acoustic ballads, delivered quietly and prettily, and command the same attention. There are REALLY wide extremes to the White Stripes, and they know it. The film trailer:

Therein may be the answer to my questions, after all. To paraphrase a comment by Jack White in the film about his favorite line ever written about the White Stripes, this band is, at once, both the most-contrived and the most-real. It is that duality, layer after layer -- personas, music, images, marketing,and very set-up – that is compelling, curious, interesting, unusual. It is powerful raw talent that fuels the fire, and a very conscious dedication to musical craft that has kept it all from burning out of control.

The idea of filming the tour of Canada was a good one, because the tour itself was set up to be markedly different than a usual rock ‘ roll tour of clubs and arenas. This time, the White Stripes embarked on an ambitious schedule – they would play in every province in Canada. One town was so far north that when the gig ended at 11PM it looked like midday outside. An Inuit town on the other side of the country came across as a desolate Martian landscape of crunchy permafrost, swirly artful mud, pools of still water, and random rocks, where raw caribou was served to Jack and Meg White in honor of their appearance. There were the big gigs and there were shows played at day care centers, a pool hall, a bowling alley, a city bus, a park, the back of a boat, and a café, the latter played to a mom with her baby bouncing on her knee. The tour, by design, was more interesting for the forays out of the usual, and it is quite charming and fun to see what happens at each juncture.

The film is primarily concert footage with a few inset pieces of interviews and travel follies, dressed in the cinematic starkness, grit, and color blast of the band’s signature red, white, and black theme. It adds witty style to the movie, and you more appreciate the consistency of the band’s visual image through the years – defiantly cool rather than stagnant or silly. And you must appreciate the incredible power of a White Stripes performance, whether you are a fan or not. This band's amps don't just go to 11; this band causes tectonic plate shifts.

Another dichotomy that is readily apparent when watching the movie is the polar-opposite personalities of Jack and Meg White. Jack comes off as almost manic in his focus – serious, bursting with big opinions and ideas about music and art and life, jittery, somewhat wary and defensive. It strongly seems like he would be both exciting and exhausting to deal with. This is someone who will never be satisfied, and never wants to be satisfied. For Jack White, satisfaction doesn’t inspire you to do things. Difficulties and problems are intentionally built into everything he does. He needs an ever-present dragon to slay, and you’ve got to be pretty clever to keep convincing those dragons to come out of their caves somehow.

Then there is Meg, the thin-limbed, big-chested girl by his side, her plain face almost always sporting the same sort of beatific Mona-Lisa smile. She says almost nothing during the film, which is the subject of a couple of the film’s humorous bits. She is a classic introvert, someone you could easily imagine getting happily lost in a library or too shy to leave home at all. Yet – yet!! – here she is, playing drums behind possibly the most explosive rock frontman of all time, and hitting hard; more than keeping up, she is often inspiring, which you can see as Jack plays off of her almost constantly. Meg has received many dismissive comments about her drumming over the years, because it is simple to the point of creating the category of “sarcastic drums,” but I beg to differ. Meg can WALLOP as loud as any John Bonham, and she is utterly in tune with the veers and dynamics of Jack’s playing – no small thing at ALL. Her playing is perfect for what he does, and she commits to what she does just as much as Jack. No small thing at all, because it takes a lot of guts and determination for her to get out there and a willingness and ability to bond that closely with another musician, especially one as remarkable as Jack White.

The Canadian tour also marked the White Stripes’ 10-year anniversary, and there is a definite reflective tone to the film, an awareness of the challenges to keeping things going. Jack White seems both proud of and constricted by the inherent limitations of the band, talking and talking while Meg sits silently, often with her head down. All that energy of his, all those ideas and needs compelled him over the last few years to amp up his “side projects” including bands the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, running a record label/business, producing other artists, and this film. After the Canadian tour was over, a planned U.S. jaunt was scrapped; the reason given was Meg White’s acute anxiety. Outside of an appearance on the final show of Late Night With Conan O’Brien in February, 2009, the White Stripes haven’t performed since 2007, which makes “Under The Great Northern White Lights” feel at times like a goodbye, underscored by an emotional last scene of Jack and Meg sitting side-by-side at a piano.

Heading back through the rain and back home to bed at almost 2AM, what stood out the most for me in the film were not the roaring performances, but the quieter moments that Malloy captured throughout the Canadian tour. Meg falling asleep on a backstage couch after a gig, cigarette in hand, then Jack finally drifting off in a chair next to her, his face finally relaxed, his intensity replaced by a baby-faced sweetness as he dozed. The tightness in the body when one is acutely aware of being recorded. Jack offering Meg a hand to help her up a slippery snowbank. Jack and Meg White’s faces at the end of the movie, for a brief moment stripped of all that it is to be famous, replaced by all that it is to be human.

Jack White has said that he has recorded some new tracks with Meg and thinks a new White Stripes album could be out soon, possibly later this year. That is very very good news, that the dragon supply seems to be plentiful for him and the Meg White has hopefully slayed a few as well. Emmett Malloy has made an excellent documentary in “Under The Great White Northern Lights,” true to the spirit and style of the White Stripes and something that people will watch many years from now, saying, “Man, I wish I could have been there! They were great.”

No way should you miss seeing this film, so make your way here to find more official showings and by god, pay attention to Facebook ads sometimes. Seattle folks can see a showing of the film at the Crocodile Café on March 16th for free, but as there is limited seating you better get in line early and bring money for the delicious Via Tribunali pizza that will be served. If you cannot see it in the theaters, the IFC channel will be showing “Under The Great Northern White Lights” On-Demand all the rest of March, and the CD/DVD will be available for purchase also on March 16th.

I will be playing here, most midnights throughout the year.