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Fun Fun Fun Fest Interviews: Saturday

Stepping in the ring with the Boxer

By Doug Freeman, Fri., Nov. 7, 2008

The National

8:40pm, Stage 1

This summer the National released the DVD A Skin, a Night, but the hourlong film was far from typical rockumentary fare. Made by Parisian director Vincent Moon, famous for his Web-based series, "The Take-Away Shows," on La Blogotheque featuring artists performing in unique settings, the film more closely resembled an impressionist montage set to the band's music. Mirroring the making of the Brooklyn quintet's breakthrough fourth album, Boxer, Moon's cinematography moved with an equally beautiful and gloomy subtlety.

"We didn't really know what he was doing," laughs frontman Matt Berninger in his distinctly deep baritone. "We were nervous at the time, because we thought, 'Who wants to see another indie rock documentary, and especially about us?' It's not like we've been around for 30 years and have a huge story to tell. He wanted it to be this more experiential thing that was just capturing the mood of being in the studio or the room, and he probably made us look much cooler and darker and more tortured than we really are."

Boxer proved to be one of 2007's best albums, honing the group's melodic crescendos through Berninger's juxtaposition of desperate heartache and defiant yearning. As Moon's film highlights, the tension in the National's sound springs as much from process as intent.

"We're not a band that really gets together in a room and just starts to jam," admits Berninger. "There's also no sort of leader or anything. When there's a thing on the table that looks like it might be one of our songs, then everybody pushes and pulls it different directions. That's where the fighting happens, and that's probably where we're the most creative."

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