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`Air Guitar Nation' finds common chord

Ever pretended to play along with a Jimi Hendrix record? This documentary's for you.

March 30, 2007|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

Down deep, in places we don't like to think about, we all know we've done it or thought of doing it.

Strapping on that imaginary Stratocaster or Les Paul and greedily tearing at the air with our hungry fingers, we feel like gods -- guitar gods, that is. Be it in the solitude of one's bedroom before a mirror or in the relative obscurity of the colonnade section at the Forum, playing air guitar is generally a type of private reverie, an interpretive communion with music we love.

For the folks profiled in the respectful, slightly daft documentary "Air Guitar Nation," it's a little more than that. It's performance art complete with an audience. It's "instant meditation." Or as one particularly besotted practitioner boasts, "To err is human, to air guitar divine."

It's also competitive, with a judging system modeled on figure skating in which a panel critiques contestants on technique, attitude and, most important, "airness" -- whatever that may be. Filmmaker Alexandra Lipsitz follows two New Yorkers from a regional competition to the national championship here in Los Angeles at the Roxy and the 2003 world championship in Oulu, Finland, revealing a window into a world most of us never knew existed outside our private fantasies.

Dan "Bjorn Turoque" Crane was a software producer and played in a band called Nous Non Plus when he discovered air guitar. He was never going to become a rock star with his band, so he chose the next best thing: He would be a faux rock star.

The son of Korean immigrants, David "C-Diddy" Jung gravitated to air guitar as a natural extension of his career as an actor and comedian. For his performances, he dons a red kimono and Hello Kitty breastplate, unleashing what he calls "Asian fury."

The stage names are a huge part of air guitar. In Finland, where Bjorn and C-Diddy were surprisingly the first Americans to compete in the almost decade-old competition, they encountered rivals with monikers such as "Roxy McSwagger" and "Funky Jordi." Offstage, many of the participants are mild-mannered, outwardly normal citizens. But once they step in front of an audience and hear that first power chord, they start channeling Jimi Hendrix or Yngwie Malmsteen.

As bizarre as it seems, audiences enjoy it as much as the performers, and in Europe they take it very seriously. In Oulu, 5,000 aficionados showed up to enjoy the virtual licks and real scissor kicks. There are even groupies.

It's one of the charms of "Air Guitar Nation" that much of it plays like a mockumentary in which you're not quite sure who's pulling your leg. But it's real, even if the guitars are not.


"Air Guitar Nation." MPAA rating: R for some language and brief nudity. Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes. Exclusively at the Landmark Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd, West L.A., (310) 281-8223.

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