The Cape Breton Island Films Series and ECMAs teamed up to present the eastern Canadian premiere of The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights on March 4th, the opening night of this year’s East Coast Music Awards weekend. For those who missed the hype, the film documented the band’s truly cross-Canada tour that culminated in a special 10th anniversary show at Glace Bay’s famous Savoy Theatre in the summer of 2007.
The band toured extensively across the country with stops in Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Iqaluit standing out as locales in which even most Canadian musicians might not get to play. In one of the interview segments in the film, White says, “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.”
Perhaps the most talked about aspect of that tour was the surprise mini-concert phenomena which showed The White Stripes at their whimsical best and sent fans across Canada in search of the next secret location. These brief, free performances took place everywhere from a city bus in Winnipeg to the back of a fishing boat in Charlottetown harbor. Notably, in St. John’s, the band took to an outdoor stage to play one note, marking the completion of their quest to play in every province and territory in Canada.
Although Cape Breton wasn’t treated to one of the secret shows, the Savoy, hand-picked by the Stripes for its almost too perfect colour scheme, played host to a tenth anniversary show with some Cape Breton flavour that features prominently in the film (a full version of the concert is available in a special edition box set). Our own fiddling superstars Buddy MacMaster and Ashley MacIsaac, both purportedly distant cousins of Jack, opened the show with some blazing tunes of their own and they get some screen time along with some Scottish pipe and drum.
Aside from the sport of trying to spot your friends in the crowd, the film is a fun, and at times emotional, portrait of a band on the road for the love of music and their fans. The closing shots of a teary-eyed Meg sitting at the Savoy’s grand piano while Jack sings, offer some insight into Meg’s acute anxiety which may have lead to the cancelling of the remainder of their world tour.
The style owes some debt to D.A. Pennebaker’s classic Dylan doc, Don’t Look Back with its 16mm black and white footage and candid backstage moments, even down to Meg White’s, intentional or not, Dylan-esque mannerisms. However, filmmaker Emmett Malloy looks past mere homage and applies his own touches. Using The White Stripes’ well-known palette of red, white and black, Malloy highlights Jack and Meg White’s contrived kitsch while pulling the curtain back just far enough for a glimpse at the pair without their make-up.
Fans of the band who missed this special screening may still be able to join in on the fun. The White Stripes are offering a screening kit consisting of the retail DVD, popcorn and peppermint swirl candy. It’s available for order until March 10th from the band’s site. All you’ll need is a dvd player and a projector.