Faking it for real

There is a new and thriving film genre: the pseudosport documentary. The opening salvo was 1998’s Hands on a Hard Body, a ridiculously entertaining film about participants in a human-endurance radio contest. More followed, including Spellbound (about the National Spelling Bee), Wordplay (about a crossword puzzle contest), Murderball (about wheelchair sports) and the current King of Kong (about video gamers).

The set-up is always the same, and always irresistible: Regular schlubs with a strange and rarely valued gift discover a subcultural contest where they can experience triumph and a sort of fame. Pseudosport documentaries are as manipulative as any Hollywood sports movie—there is always the egotistical top dog, the spirited upstart who refuses to give up his dream (no matter how shallow), and the “big game” ending—but with a uniquely personal twist.

One of the newest entries in this subgenre is Alexandra Lipsitz’ Air Guitar Nation, which follows two armchair rock gods from the first official American contest in New York to the 2003 air guitar world championships in Finland, where competitors from all over the world “play” to 5,000 screaming metalheads.

Here, the top dog is David “C-Diddy” Jung, an elastic-faced actor, and the spirited upstart is the pitiable Dan “Bjorn Turoque” Crane, who repeatedly loses to C-Diddy, yet still pursues him to Finland. In the film’s most riveting scene, Jung wins over a hostile L.A. crowd with a flamboyant and impeccably choreographed “air” performance of Extreme’s “Play With Me.”

The competitors dress in elaborate costumes, create almost transvestite-like alter egos for themselves, and fashion their acts into a form of heavy-metal performance art. It is either a joke that they take very seriously, or something serious that they’ve turned into a joke. Either way, Air Guitar Nation is great fun.