By JP Chapman | August 13, 2009
Director: Davis Guggenheim
Starring: Jimmy Page, The Edge, Jack White
If the success of Guitar Hero has taught us any lesson, it’s that every single person in the world apparently wants to play loud electric guitar under the spotlights of enormous venues…As Americans, we’ve romanticized our relationship with the electric beast to the point where rock stars have become mainstays amongst the most powerful people on earth. With only a select handful of stars still holding this rank, time seems to be more quickly than not pulling us back down to reality; shining a light on the fundamentals of instrumentation and song-craft once again. It Might Get Loud takes this “return to from whence we came” mentality to great lengths, and as such, is intended to be director Davis Guggenheim’s love letter to the electric guitar and its history. Following three iconic players of their respective generations: Jack White (White Stripes, Raconteurs, Dead Weather), The Edge (U2) and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin); Guggenheim attempts to take the viewer on this journey via their signature methods of playing. However; in the process of allowing these players to discuss what inspired their unique approaches to music and craft, the larger than life talents end up taking the movie in their own (but no less enjoyable) direction. It is via this crossroads of blues, skiffle, style, emotion, outright-jamming, and technology that the viewer is cast as a fly on the wall to their recounted recollections of falling in love with music.
It Might Get Loud is organized into what amounts to four separate suites—with one reserved for each guitarist’s past and present. Interspersed with these, the fourth suite captures moments of conversation and jamming in an LA studio as each axe-man leads the others in one of his iconic songs. While the jams are somewhat cumbersome (it was quite humorous to watch Jimmy Page attempt to play along to the Edge’s delay-soaked “I Will Follow” with chunky power chords), the back-stories are extremely well-told and portrayed. It is via these that Guggenheim is able to show the documentary strength that he proved out via an Oscar win with An Inconvenient Truth. The movie itself opens with an awesome scene of Jack White building a guitar out of a board, guitar string, coke bottle, and nail. He then proceeds to somehow make guitarists with $3,000 guitars look like beginners as he plays an astounding slide solo on this make-shift guitar. Each of Jack’s sections follow this workman-like mentality as White recounts how furniture upholstery introduced him to the guitar, along with the virtues of struggling and fighting with your instrument to provide something true and honest. From this organic, tool centered approach, we jump to the Edge and his use of technology to evoke emotion, and coax something entirely new out of the instrument. We are treated to a behind the scenes look at his array of effects and amps, as well as get to hear a little more about the dynamics behind U2’s genesis. Finally, we arrive with Jimmy Page. With all the jamming, and cool stories present in this film, the one thing that will stay with me the most is his school-boy glee as we’re treated to a scene of him listening to Link Wray and skiffle at home. His innocent, unabashed love of music shines through and overwhelms any other notion that I’ve ever had of the man and his amazing career. This is how I will now always think of Jimmy Page. Ultimately-Page takes us to Headley Grange, and a peek behind the scenes of where/how Led Zeppelin IV was formed. Very, very cool for any Zeppelin fan.
Unfortunately, It Might Get Loud is not without fault. While the conversations between the guitarists are an awesome concept, the editing and direction left me feeling like they were also somewhat contrived and forced. Throughout the course of the film, this sentiment began to somewhat grow for me, leaving Guggenheim’s “love letter” feeling more like a pet project than anything else. With this in mind, It Might Get Loud is not for your average film lover, or even your average music lover. This film is for fans of Led Zeppelin, U2, and the White Stripes. I’ve read that at least one showing of this film, a panel discussion followed-with the guitarists fielding audience questions. And honestly, I walked away from this movie wishing I’d been able to do the same. It would’ve likely yielded a much more honest round table discussion than the one the film attempts to portray. All of this being said, this movie is very well done, and is a must-see for a fan of any of these men’s respective bands. The film ends with the three men playing a rendition of The Band’s classic “The Weight”, and manages again to momentarily capture Guggenheim’s goal of doing his love letter justice…