Three generations of rock guitarists – Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, The Edge (nee David Howell Evans) of U2 and Jack White of The White Stripes - are gathered together by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim to discuss the history and magic of their own favorite instrument, the electric guitar. With an insightful look into the origins and evolution of one of the most popular musical devices in the world, the trio tells their story, and those of their predecessors and contemporaries, in “It Might Get Loud.”
Kudos to Guggenheim for his selection of three prolific, and very different, guitarists. Page, The Edge and White represent the music of their times, spanning nearly a half century. Jimmy Page represents those who were there for the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and archival footage shows those early days when rhythm and blues was transcending into a new form – rock ‘n’ roll. Page lent his well-honed guitar talents to such rock phenomenon as The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds and The Who before he became the lead guitarist for the legendary Led Zeppelin.
The Edge is from the Middle Kingdom of rock music and his style turned his favored instrument into an extravaganza of electronic gadgets designed to change the sound of the electric guitar. He joined U2 in 1978 and has never looked back, using his imaginative and distinct sound, with a little help from Bono, to make the band a world wonder.
Jack White, born in 1975, grew up during the time of disco and the Me generation. His musical influence, though, steeps in the tradition of the blues, with such early artists like Son House inspiring him. Where The Edge is an electronics aficionado, White takes his music down to its simplest form. The opening sequence of “It Might Get Loud,” beneath the credits, has White taking a board, a couple of nails, a string of wire and an electric pickup and creates a rudimentary electric guitar. The mesmerizing sequence sets the stage for the rest of the film.
The filmmakers combine the music-infused round table discussion of the three artists’ craft, their roots and the reasons the love their work with terrific archival footage of Page, The Edge and White and many other famous rock and blues guitarists. This makes the film rich in information (although Laura complained there was no early Beatles footage used) and a must for anyone interested in rock music and its long, varied history. It is amazing to watch White bleeding from his fingertips, unnoticed by the musician on stage, as he concentrates on his guitar playing.
Guggenheim and company did their homework well, delving deep into the archives to give amazing historical context to the story of the birth and evolution of rock ‘n’ roll. The three stars’ perspectives on their music and its influences is interspersed with their jam sessions of such classics as U2’s “I Will Follow.”
Techs are precise, showing the three musicians as they talk and play, the cameras moving fluidly and unobtrusively. It is only when the film ends and the credits roll do you see the magnitude of the production, with scores of technicians bustling about as they begin the disassembly process. “It Might Get Loud” is a must for the rock music fan, especially you guitarists out there. I give it a B+.
Three of the greatest rock guitarists of three different generations tell us about their roots, their inspirations, their philosophies and their instruments, but when Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2) and Jack White (The White Stripes) gather together, meeting for the first time on an empty Hollywood soundstage, The Edge warns "It Might Get Loud."
The brainchild of producer Thomas Tull, "It Might Get Loud" could not possibly have been better cast. As we get to know each of these three guitar gods, what impresses isn't what draws them together, but what separates them. As such, the central conceit of having the three meet doesn't really work - the three never really seem comfortable together - but there are tidbits to be picked up, such as how Jack White doesn't take his eyes off Page's fingerwork, even as he plays himself.
White is the first musician we meet and perhaps the most fascinating - I certainly have a newfound respect for the passionate and eccentric guitarist. The film opens with White building something on the porch of a peeling-paint Tennessee farmhouse. A block of wood, an empty glass Coke bottle, some wire - voila! An electric guitar. According to White, the only need for adding the power is energy and amplification. White likes to struggle with his instruments and despises studio effects.
Page, on the other hand, believes his guitar is like a sculpture, like a woman! Here is the classical image of the rock God, even if the flowing locks are now white. Page started in skiffle (a brief history of this English craze makes no mention of John Lennon's early skiffle band?!) and moved to the studio, a professional before he was out of his teens.
The Edge believes that every component that makes up a guitar can be heard in the music produced from it. He searched for a more crystalline, minimalist sound and gave U2 their signature. The Edge uses every studio gadget at his disposal to create interesting soundscapes. In one very telling moment, he cuts out his equipment so that we can hear the guitar that is producing it and it is like reducing an entire orchestra to the cymbal. Like White, The Edge has made a guitar as well, but where White's was stripped down to its essential components, the 14 year-old Edge and his 16 year-old brother sweated over conventional form.
Director Davis Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth") cuts among these stories and also shows the three musicians traveling to their meeting point, like those traveling to the gig at the beginning of "Neil Young: Heart of Gold." He catalogs White's early days as a Detroit upholsterer (his first album was made with his boss from that shop) and goes to the Dublin high school where The Edge met the rest of his bandmates - we even see their first 'stage,' a concrete slab. Most of Zeppelin's fourth album was recorded in Headley Grange, and Page takes us there, explaining how the high ceilings produced different sounds (we also hear most of this album, from "The Battle of Evermore," which we see Page playing mandolin for, to "Stairway to Heaven").
Nowadays, Page plays his vinyl records on a turntable, resorting to air guitar for particular favorites. The Edge fusses solo in his studio, cut off from the outside world except when he goes to his favorite, private spot by the sea to try out new sounds. Meanwhile, White, who continues to refer to bandmate Meg as his sister even though the music press has proven she's his ex-wife, forms another band, The Ranconteurs, and Guggenheim captures them live in Austin, White unaware of the blood streaming down his hands as he plays.
On songwriting, Page cannot explain it instead copping out by calling it an ever changing inspiration whereas The Edge is philosophical, describing how a managed forest is a bunch of tree trunks until one notices they are all in straight rows, achieving clarity by looking at something differently. White, we simply see write and record a song, once again stating anger as a catalyst.
"It Might Get Loud" begins to ramble a bit in its latter half, as the so-called 'summit' comes into prominence, and the intertitles used don't really tie things together that well. But the film's individual subjects are fascinating and the music is not only great, but diverse. You don't need to be a fan of anything but rock to get into "It Might Get Loud."
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