For more than the last five decades the electric guitar has been a hallmark of individuality among youth. Most times their exuberance to create, to express their caged angst, pours through the cords and out the amps in blaring, explosive cacophonies. However once in a while that impulse is funneled through the hormones and comes out the other side talent, sometimes that drive manifests as true genius. Before it was improbable, but after watching Davis Guggenheim’s engaging and sonically amazing new documentary, “It Might Get Loud,” it is impossible to deny that the three subjects (Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White) are just that – genius.
Coming off the mega-success that was “An Inconvenient Truth” Davis Guggenheim solidifies himself in the ranks of great documentarians. Eliciting laughs and tears and smiles and frowns this film does what most documentaries attempt to do, but few succeed, taking the limited and milking from it the universal. Ostensibly the film deals with these three and their love for the electric guitar. Where that seems like a pretty limited subject matter underneath it “It Might Get Loud” is about what drives someone of such great talent to create. Where a music documentary usually only speaks to mega-fans of the genre Guggenheim uses the even pacing and the three men’s differing personalities to keep the viewer enthralled throughout.
The director gained impressive access to early demos, music, some truly funny old footage of the musicians and their bands, and their modern creative processes weaving it all together into a portrait of three very different, and sometimes contradictory, styles and philosophies. Told entirely in their own words the Edge, Page, and White detail their beginnings in music, and why they gravitated to the instrument.
With his beginnings as a session player Jimmy Page was pushed on to create new and interesting things because he had spent so much time playing other people’s old and boring music. Fueled by nothing more than a pure drive to create, to make a new and interesting sound, find beautiful and innovative ways to play and record music he pushed himself to become a legend.
In one of the more intimate moments the Edge details his desire to change the world, that he would get his message out and do it without a thought as to whether anyone would listen or not. “If it wasn’t U2 it would have been some other band,” the Edge says as he visits the high school in which Larry Mullins Jr. put up a flier looking for band mates. As he shows off his bevy of peddles and effects he comes off as some sort of musical techno-warrior in a battle with mediocrity. A wall of sound pounds out of an amplifier, though when the Edge turns off the processor the actual playing is simple and even boring, but with his ingenious sculpting the sound becomes other worldly.
On the other hand like a Neo-Luddite Jack White talks about technology dampening any real creativity, about how he would prefer to stick to the roots, hearken back to the early days of rock and roll. If Page was driven to create, and the Edge was driven to help an ailing world, White was driven to prove something. Often coming across as overly pugnacious he is like the Batman of music, fueled by rage. By introducing him sitting with a child credited as “Jack White age 10” goes to show that Guggenheim and White are both aware of the air of stylized fiction that surrounds the musician. Undeniably brilliant and talented his inclusion in the documentary seems at times like one of necessity. Less interesting than the other two there really wasn’t any choice but to include him. Jack White is hands down one of the best, most driven guitar superstars of this generation – no matter what one might think of his personality.
Though the choice of Jack White and Jimmy Page in the same film is an interesting one. White’s guitar playing has often been compared to, even derided as derivative of, that of Page. His singing and the music of his band The White Stripes have often been compared to Led Zeppelin. Those similarities become obvious when, during the opening credits, one of them is playing, and it would take a real connoisseur of both pickers to figure out who it is (I was wrong). Guggenheim chooses to withhold the identity until the end of the song, obviously knowledgeable of the ambiguity.
Putting these three men in one room, a Hollywood sound stage in what is referred to as a summit, it becomes clear this is also a portrait of three men in different stages of their own image as a rock star. Page is the elder statesman, with his flowing, scraggly, gray hair and frilly shirt he looks like Mozart, completely at ease with the reverence that flows out of the other two in his presence. The Edge exists in a more mature modernity, comfortable in the fashion that still goes up in front of over flowing stadium crowds. In bowler hat and bow tie White lives in a skin of contrivance, obviously eager to trend set.
However this summit does give us some of the best moments in the film. The reverence on both the Edge and Jack White’s faces as Jimmy Page goes through “Whole Lotta Love” shows the awe they hold for this Rock God, and the pure enjoyment they still hold for music. As the three get together to do a version of The Band’s “The Weight” the audience gets a feeling of that power in what could be one of Rock and Roll’s greatest moments.
“I had to decide if I was just a guitar player,” the Edge says summing up the theme for the whole film. Are these men just guitar players or something more? Do they just strum six strings strung tightly across a piece of wood, or do they open up new aural worlds that the masses had no idea existed? Their reputations alone would seem to answer the question.
El Luchador Rating: 5 out of 5 (5 out of 5)
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)