Thursday, November 27, 2014

Mistaken for Strangers

Directed, shot, and co-edited by Tom Berninger, Mistaken for Strangers is a tour documentary on the indie rock band the National as the band starts to gain momentum as they take vocalist Matt Berninger’s brother Tom to document the tour. Along the way, Tom deals with the expectations of the road as well as doing everything to please his older brother whom he always felt been living under his shadow. The result is a fascinating and enjoyable film from Tom Berninger.

Since their formation in 1999 that led to the release of their debut album in 2001, the National had been this critically-acclaimed indie-rock band that blended post-punk with somber songs that is sung by Matt Berninger whose bass-like vocals have given him the comparisons of the late Joy Division vocalist Ian Curtis. With the release of their fifth studio album High Violet in 2010 where the band is getting more exposure and experiencing their first taste of commercial success. Matt invites his younger brother Tom to join him as a roadie as the young aspiring filmmaker also documents the entire tour. While interviewing band members in guitarists in Aaron and Bryce Dessner, bassist Scott Devendorf, and drummer Bryan Devendorf, Tom deals with the chaos of being on the road as well as the expectations that is laid upon him.

It’s a film where a young man who is more into heavy metal than indie music deal in seeing his older brother becoming famous as well as realize that this is a band that is getting bigger. Yet, the expectations to keep up with the rigors of the road and wanting to have a good time does take a toll on Tom. Even as he has to deal with his brother who has all of these demands and such. While Tom is a goofball, he is a very likeable guy as he is just trying to create a film that shows the band in a good light though his relationship with Matt is complicated since Tom is quite immature and Matt is often very impatient and bossy. Matt’s bandmates definitely attest to the fact that Matt is difficult though Tom isn’t making things easier with some of his screw-ups. Even as Tom does feel like he’s letting his brother down as it includes a moment where Tom screens a rough cut of the film which is a disaster.

Also serving as the film’s cinematographer, Tom Berninger does create something that feels simple while getting some unique shots the band’s performances as well as some scenes backstage where there’s a few celebrities that are present in the film. Much of it is shot in handheld to get a feel of a video diary that plays into Tom’s enthusiasm as well as being this observer of a band becoming famous. With help from sister-in-law Carin Besser (who is also in the film) in editing the film and sound editor Paul Hsu, Berninger does create something that is a mixture of both but it’s really something that showcases a band coming to prominence in the world of music while the singer’s brother captures this rise with a sense of excitement.

Mistaken for Strangers is an excellent film from Tom Berninger. Not only is it an enjoyable documentary about the National and their rise but also in how an aspiring filmmaker goes along for the ride while trying to please his older brother. It’s a film that isn’t just a nice introduction to the band but also something that fans of the group will enjoy as well as be entertained by. In the end, Mistaken for Strangers is a superb documentary from Tom Berninger.

© thevoid99 2014


Chris said...

An interesting yet messy documentary by a first time filmmaker. I think this is a far different doc than what they set out to make. If you look at it as a character study about brothers and living in the shadows of fame, then it's quite revealing. I took it at face value as fact, but have read it could be partly staged.

thevoid99 said...

It is still fun considering that here's a guy that is more into hard rock as he tries to have fun but is aware that he has a job to do. If it was partly staged, it still made it fun to watch.

Alex Withrow said...

I thought you might like this one. The National is one of my favorite bands, and I loved how unconventional this flick was.

thevoid99 said...

@Alex Withrow-Same here. BTW, I accidentally deleted your comment on my Jena list. Sorry. I'm fucking out of it due to this fucking flu.