REVIEW: It Might Get Loud [2009]

“Total commitment”

I’ve never had any interest in playing the guitar, ever … until now.

It Might Get Loud, a documentary about the beginnings of three prolific guitarists and how they use their instrument—Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White—won me over and finally showed me that attraction people have to rock ‘n roll. These dudes are badass. Directed by Davis Guggenheim, he of An Inconvenient Truth as well as a slew of great television show credits, the story not only uses historical footage and interviews with the trio separately, but also puts them in the same room, with a plethora of their own axes, to converse, both verbally and rhythmically. Watching them play a song together is a real treat, seeing the pure joy they have of making music, catching a glimpse at the boyish wonder they have for each other, constantly looking to see what the others are doing, and comparing their styles. Page has not lost a step as he grooves and moves the entire time he is playing, lips pursing and expanding, the music taking control of his body; The Edge is the consummate professional, stoic concentration, standing straight and playing with determination; and White sits or stands casually and at ease, the guitar high and close, showing a bluegrass feel just like his voice and chords.

You may be wondering—as I did before going in too—what White is doing in this mix. Page produced the film, he got the group together to play, and so he must have seen something in the youngster. Maybe he needed juxtaposition with The Edge, a stripped down raw sound against the U2 man’s heavy use of effects and computers, (when you hear the actual chords he plays without the digital enhancements, you won’t believe it). Either way, it does not take long to see that the driving force of The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and The Dead Weather belongs. The film does open up to him making a guitar out of a Coke bottle, plank of wood, and a single string after all. Who needs to buy a guitar? And his knowledge of the craft is extensive, with a childhood story that goes against odds to have gotten to the point he is at today. The youngest of ten children, never wanting to play the guitar, apprenticing at an upholstery shop, and having to force his sister to go on stage with him for their first gig, it all began with the exposure to a song by Son House, his favorite piece of music still to this day.

We know about Page and his days in The Yardbirds before Led Zeppelin. Heck, some may even know he was a session guitarist before that, playing on anything that came his way before finally needing to get out and create his own sound, to use a loud crescendo without recourse. However, did you know that The Edge would never have met Bono and company, U2 may never have been, if not for a flyer on his school’s cork board looking to start a band? The foursome from Ireland were, admittedly, not that good at the start, but they continued on, finding their voice and politics as the years went. Only when Bono told him to take some time off and experiment by himself did he discover he could write. One may think these superpowers of rock music just got together and the rest was history, but no, they all had their “breastfeeding” moments, as captioned in the movie, instances where they had to work and keep going. It’s a world based on hard work, no matter what your occupation, to resonate and reach the masses means earning it.

No matter how enthralling the background stories and early footage of the three—through video, stills, whatever they had available to share—it is the electricity seeing the trio together that caught my attention. I’d love to see the unedited reels of just that meeting in January of 2008. What is shown is wonderful, but too brief. Sure, the moments of jamming are wonderful, but the conversations are always cut short. I wanted to see them pick each other’s brains. You get a little of that with Page asking The Edge if he was sure the one note was supposed to be a C, or when The Edge relays to the others during the credits that he had been playing the wrong note the whole time they covered a song, but that’s just correcting each other and having fun. There had to have been questions like, “how did you do that?” or “how was it doing that?” or even “how high were you when you wrote that?” Maybe the DVD culls some of those moments; it would be well worth the purchase I’m sure.

It’s a rare thing to see artists interviewing artists, or just being in close proximity and watching what occurs. The more straightforward documentary parts are even narrated by them alone; only a few instances bring in an outside source, presumably Guggenheim, to pass on a query. One of the most memorable scenes is just Page in his home library full of vinyl, wall to wall. He takes a 7” out of its sleeve and puts in on the player so he can show us the power of “Rumble,” a rock instrumental by Link Wray. The legend just stands in front of the camera giggling like a little boy, face full of unadulterated joy. He starts to mimic the hand movements, playing air guitar to the song, as he explains the distortion progression as the song continues on. We are experiencing a piece of history filmed live, watching one of the greatest guitarists on the planet show his cards and lift the curtain to what inspired him. And that is what these three men are: inspirations. They touch people young and old, hit them emotionally and create change, either large or small. They are living the dream and looking cool doing it.

It Might Get Loud 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

photography:
[1] Left to Right: Jack White, Jimmy Page, The Edge Photo taken by Eric Lee, 2008, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
[2] Jack White Photo taken by Alba Tull, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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