Air guitar! That’s a thing! Some people are really into air guitar!
Dir. Alexandra Lipsitz, 2007, 81 min, Viewed via Hulu
There are no small subjects; only small docs. Air guitar could easily sustain a feature-length film. It doesn’t keep Air Guitar Nation alive, though. Don’t get me wrong – the movie is fun in a lightly good-natured way. It isn’t bad. But it drags, because an international air guitar competition simply wasn’t enough to hold my interest.
I’ve had similar problems with other documentaries about big competitions in sports or other subcultures, and I’ve come to a realization about why that is. In a sports movie, we can invest in a competition because, if the filmmaker is doing their job properly, the way the main character or characters behave in this competition ties into their developmental arcs. We root for Rocky because the way he performs in his big bout could make or break a specific personal stake that he has in the outcome, often of the emotional kind (he has to go the distance).
But docs sometimes seem to forget this. I’m not sure if it happens as often as fictional films fail, but I’ve noticed it. They introduce characters who are likable enough, but the mere fact that they are “our” people isn’t really enough to make us be invested in their success or failure in the big tournament/game/whatever. If there’s nothing at stake, then what’s our connection to what’s going on? Remember how King of Kong did such a great job of showing us what video games meant to the major players? Or how Resolved set up the Jordan High debate team as such desperate underdogs? There’s more to making a contest interesting than just telling us who to root for.
In this doc, we meet David “C-Diddy” Jung and Dan “Björn Türoque” Crane, two air guitar champions who are moving on from the US field to the international stage, taking part in the 2003 World Air Guitar Championship in Finland. We get to know Jung and Crane: their home lives, backgrounds, and the source of the affection for air guitar. They’re nice enough. But that doesn’t make them good protagonists. There has to be something more. There’s some attempt at constructing a story around them trying to make sure that America has worthy representation in the world stage, but it doesn’t work. Who can really care what the rest of the world of air guitar thinks of us?
What you have with Air Guitar Nation is one big recap of the World Air Guitar Championship. Frankly, seeing guys faux-strum away at invisible instruments gets dull pretty quickly. The film doesn’t even delve much into what goes into air guitar, how people develop techniques or know what’s good and what’s bad or what have you. So what’s left? A winning, sometimes funny (the line “to error is human, to air guitar divine” is one for the ages) little documentary that fails to justify it’s length. There’s no shame in short film, and I feel there’s a good one of those that could be edited out of what’s here. As it is, the interest-to-boredom ratio tilts too far to the side nobody likes.