Put three influential axemen in a room and see what happens. Perhaps that is the seed that first entered Davis Guggenheim and the production team's minds when they decided to make It Might Get Loud. Guggenheim, who is perhaps best known for directing An Inconvenient Truth, makes an interesting choice in the three guitarists he chooses to profile. In the days of Guitar Hero video games, the term 'rock God' gets thrown around quite a bit, and in this movie it takes an interesting direction. More than anything, the movie profiles Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White.
Does Jimmy Page even need any introduction? The soft spoken and reserved guitarist and song writer for Led Zeppelin, Page has penned some of hard rock's most recognizable guitar riffs and has long been known to be as equally immersed in creepy black magic as he is at guitar. The Edge comes to us by way of Ireland, being the guitar man for U2. He's a curious choice, as you'd guess that a documentary about guitar playing wouldn't feature a rhythm guitar player. Perhaps Page put it's best when he describes The Edge as a "sound architect", using multiple guitar effects pedals to get U2's signature sound. Jack White, known to most for his work in The White Stripes and The Raconteurs, is the up-and-comer that's already been able to forge a signature sound. Much more so than any of the others, White has more of an outward and aggressive demeanor.
Much of the movie goes into character study. We get the whole background of Jimmy Page growing up in England and how he's introduced to the guitar: his family moved into a new house when he was a boy, and the previous homeowners left an acoustic guitar there. From there we see a teenage Page playing in a kind of English rockabilly band and from there moving on to become an accomplished session player before moving on to The Yardbirds and ultimately Led Zeppelin. Page boasts a friggin' huge record collection, and he plays many of his favorite cuts, most notably an old 45 of "Rumble", where Page says he really got the itch to play with a more thick, heavy sound. The filmmakers even follow him to a countryside mansion where Zeppelin recorded IV, and he shows us where Bonham laid down the drum tracks in the front foyer.
The Edge comes from a working class section of Dublin during a time of economic hardship. We find that U2 is the only band he's ever been in, and it all started by way of a post-it note on his school's bulletin board. He freely admits that for the longest time he was not technically adept at playing the guitar, but he had a sound in mind that he wanted to achieve. The Edge even shows us how he plays typical guitar chords in a different fashion which gives it more of the U2 ringing sound. The biggest nugget we get, though, is how he uses guitar effects. If you've ever listened to U2 from The Joshua Tree and on, you know much of U2's sound is driven by echo effects on the guitars. We get to see that he has an entire board of guitar effects that all run through a giant computer. The Edge even plays the main hook to "Elevation" both with and without the effects. Without the effects, it's simply two chords.
Jack White definitely likes to give off the throw-back vibe. We see him driving an old car in Tennessee, making a one string guitar on his porch with a coke bottle and some wire, and he's always seen in his signature porkpie hat. Oddly, much of the film has Jack White being followed by a "young Jack" White, a 9 year old boy dressed like White, presumably supposed to be him in his formative years. We also travel to Detroit, where White grew up and worked as an upholster and found a musical partner in his boss (they even formed a band called The Upholsters). White talks at length of how he likes things stripped down and pure, frequently mentioning his favorite record, an old Son House piece from way back. White even tells us that he likes to struggle with his guitars, and that his White Stripes "number one" is a red plastic guitar from a department store.
The entire movie, naturally, has great music playing in the background. Mostly interspersed over old footage, we see all three of the musicians in past and present day footage. Page almost seems apprehensive to let people into his mind or his technique, though we do get some boner-inducing shots of his playing some Zeppelin classics for the other two. The Edge opens up a but more, even pulling out some old demo cassette tapes where we got to hear some Joshua Tree Era stuff. White leaves nothing left to the imagination. As I said, he was bay far the most open of three, even recording some stuff on an old reel-to-reel. And he seemed hungry to impress the others ("I want to trick these guys into showing me their tricks), showing how he came up with an idea to incorporate a vocal mic into a guitar, allowing him to get that distorted vocal sound that's evident to those familiar with White's work.
The whole movie builds towards the end, where all three will be in the same room, culminating in an epic jam. This is where the movie falls short. There is little to no chemistry between the three with only White seeming to want something big to happen. After a few awkward jams where The Edge clearly was uncomfortable trying to play some lead lines, we were treated to the movie's gem - a jam on The Band's big hit, "The Weight". The Edge and White handle the vocals when Page makes it clear that he doesn't/can't sing.
This is a movie that will appeal to fans of the musicians involved and those who are big into guitar playing. It's a wholly enjoyable movie, but one that could have been much more. Instead of an in-depth look at the guitar, it's more of an overview of the men themselves, almost a Greatest Hits look instead of what really makes them tick. We do get some interesting back stories, but they're ones that could easily be read on the artist's Wikipedia pages. That being said, the music and the cinematography make it an overall positive experience. Unfortunately, I can't stop from wondering what might have been.
Thunder Matt Review: 7 stars out of 10
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