photo: Tom Berninger
‘Do you ever get sleepy on stage?’. This question is met with a mildly disgruntled expression from The National’s crumpled lead singer Matt Berninger. The guy behind the camera is in fact Matt’s younger ‘metal head’ brother Tom (picture School of Rock’s Dewey Finn), initially put in charge of roadie duties on the band’s 2010 High Violet tour. Inevitably, the guy that makes his own films about ‘barbarians…who go on a rampage’ is set to wreak havoc amongst his brother’s quietly thoughtful world of intelligent indie rock. Much of this trouble is caused by his awkwardly invasive technique with a handheld camera; the results are hilarious, uncomfortable and surprisingly tender. The film, we see becomes less and less about The National as a band, they are more a peripheral issue; this film is about brothers, and the strange dynamic that occurs when one becomes a rock star and the other is trailing slightly behind. Through Tom’s novice lens we follow the band on tour from London to Berlin, to Madison where they play for President Obama. Tom has to film this particular event from several metres away, ushered away by security guards in a way that reiterates his slight insignificance in his brother’s rock and roll world.
It is the interesting balance of being both the outsider and a family member that allows Tom to construct a unique look into how the band works. Tom captures his brother’s quiet contemplation before a show and playfully reminds him of the sizeable crowd he’s about to play to; Matt slinks off to practice his vocals in a cubicle. And then comes the live footage; spine tingling stuff that, if you weren’t already convinced you needed to see The National perform, you’ll surely want to. Tom’s lens is fixed on Matt bent over in a sweating frenzy, screaming out Mr November with his thousands strong crowd and is genuinely exciting to watch.
The film is largely hilarious, stacked with potential sound bites (Tom is mainly responsible for these- ‘Is that Moby’s house?’) but its also sensitive, weird and not necessarily what you might expect. The whole thing is sound tracked by High Violet and the newest album Trouble Will Find Me, which offer a perfectly cinematic and wistful for the tone to the story. I went to see a film about The National and I left with a warm fuzzy feeling.