The National first garnered acclaim far from their Brooklyn, New York home. Paris, France marked the spot where audiences “got it.” Ironically, my first introduction to the band was a recording of one of the band’s performances there, the emotive indie upstarts running through a sundry set on Black Sessions, a weekly show on France Inter radio station.
American audiences have followed a step behind the French, The National’s breakthrough album Boxer, its fourth long-player, elevating the quintet to new heights. But watching A Skin, A Night, the film by Vincent Moon that was produced during the making of the album, it is clear that the magic of Boxer wasn’t realized until the album hit the streets.
Filled with incongruous snapshots and black-and-white scenes of art-house beauty, the 50-minute film uncovers a humble group of musicians filled with sincerity and connected by both music and kinship (the band features two sets of brothers). Despite the romantic notions that bleed freely from A Skin, A Night, the DVD falls short in its presentation of the band doing what it does best – making music. Instead, snippets of tracks on Boxer, as well as cuts from its repertoire melt into hollow echoes, often deteriorating before they are able to take flight. This is only resolved by the band’s fiery performance of “About Today” that closes the film, singer Matt Berninger draped on a the microphone stand until the composition explodes in motion, guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner barreling to the front of the stage in a wailing prologue.
Fans of The National will revel in the peep-hole view into its history and glimpses into band member personalities; however, will be left craving a view unobstructed by high-brow artistic indulgences. Even with its deficiencies, A Skin, A Night will serve as a portrait of a an honest band with insecurities that are effectively tempered by talent.
A Skin, A Night is out now on Beggars Banquet.