Hot on the heels of the National’s 'Boxer' album comes this film and EP package. The National are one of those lucky bands that has been allowed to develop from humble beginnings, and as they reach their peak, now have the audience they deserve. 'Boxer' has been something of a ‘sleeper hit’. I probably listen to it more now, and enjoy it more, than when it came out. It is a multi-layered album, and becomes more impressive the closer and more often one listens.

After some strange black and white footage, the film begins with two members of the band explaining, in more words than they probably needed to use, that they feel weird being followed around with a camera. It is not the most auspicious opening.

We then see the band collected in their dressing room, and as they leave a video screen on the wall shows them arriving on stage. Which is quite effective, I admit. But as the camera lingers on an exhausted looking Matt Berninger, I’m already fairly sure that this will be arty, and - probably - a tad pretentious. The band then narrate a band history over the top of various clips of footage, but, as we can‘t see their faces, its actually quite hard to listen carefully to what they say. The subtitles - somewhat bizarrely - are a must. As this goes on, we follow the band as they record what was to become their best album.

The second half of ‘A Skin, A Night’ is far better than the first. As we are drawn closer into the recording sessions, there are some very interesting moments - in particular a conversation over a cigarette where Matt Berninger discusses how best to turn a good chorus into a great song. A few minutes later, we see the collaborative process in action, as Berninger politely rejects one piano part, and hopes that something better can be found. I went straight from watching this film to listening again to 'Boxer', and I did so with renewed interest.

Ultimately, however, Moon’s film is something of a let down. His arty turns are a distraction, and I would have much preferred a formal documentary - one that actually let us see a more complete picture of how the album came together. There is footage taken from a live show, but too few chances to actually see the band perform. We see the band work on songs, but don’t see how they start or finish them.

'The Virginia EP' is more successful. Of course, it doesn’t have the flow of a natural album, but shows another side to the band. Some of the songs from Boxer are presented in demo form, which goes to show just how hard they work to make songs complete. There are some enjoyable live tracks, including a cover of Springsteen’s 'Mansion On The Hill', while some new songs recorded with Sufjan Stevens rank among their best work.

Anyone who hasn’t heard the National and wants to should make a beeline for 'Boxer' and work from there. Us established fans will find much to complement what they have already heard here, but, regrettably, this doesn’t stand up to detailed scrutiny in its own light.









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