Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"Mistaken For Strangers" (The National documentary, dir. Tom Berninger)

In the past couple of weeks, as the rockism vs poptimism debates heated up in print and on the internet, the National somehow became the poster boys for stodgy rock music that takes itself too seriously.  The defense's timing is impeccable, as evidenced by the release of this documentary that is ostensibly about the band's 2010 world tour, but ends up as a case study about two brothers who were once inseparable, were forced apart by the unexpected success of the band, and their struggle to rebuild their relationship.

Or is it?  Every review I have read (except for one) takes the film completely at face value.  The story of the doofus younger brother getting his act together and making his family proud is fun to play along with, but I found myself constantly questioning whether what I was seeing was real.  Could anyone really ask so many dumb questions?  If he's a lone wolf filming his stupid documentary without permission, then who is holding the camera most of the time?  Why would the band's management, who come off as being fun hating squares who are constantly preoccupied with protecting the National's image in documentary footage they've never seen, possibly want to green light the finished product?

In "This is Spinal Tap", the filmmaker played the naive straight man and the band were the fools.  It's remarkable to think that it took thirty years for somebody to try the opposite combination.

No matter what your take, a band that chooses to "profile themselves" by foregoing all the usual rules of documentary filmmaking by agreeing to get strung along as bit players in a story of brotherly redemptions can't be taking itself all that seriously.  

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