Last week, rock fans of a certain age couldn’t help but wince—not only at the news that Eddie Van Halen was on his way to rehab, but at that ghastly photo of him circulating on the Internet. The man looks like a wraith these days. So much of our connection to music isn’t merely the tuneage, but the strut that accompanies it; Eddie’s geeky grin, his loose-limbed shamble in those ’80s videos, were just as key as his guitar daredevilry. The fall felt hard.
Air Guitar Nation does a fine job of bottling prelapsarian exuberance. It’s not about Eddie or any professional player, however. Rather, the doc’s subjects are those who stand in front of mirrors and shred imaginary axes until imaginary blood drips from imaginary calluses (i.e., more people than would probably admit). There’s an actual art to such zealous pseudoshredding—and an international competition to measure achievement. Alexandra Lipsitz’s modest chronicle of the New York regionals should make a perfect midnighter; it’s got humor (eyeing a Winger CD, one contestant whispers, “I know there’s gold in here”), passion and two heroes: rail-thin underdog “Bjorn Turoque” and his nemesis, bandanna-clad “C-Diddy.” Both deserve induction into some imaginary hall of fame. (Opens Fri; Angelika.) — Joshua Rothkopf