The Edge, Jack White and Jimmy Page get together and talk about electric guitars. The premise of It Might Get Loud, director Davis Guggenheim’s follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth, might put you off. It did for me. I was expecting an extended jerk-off with three ego-driven guitar gods about greatness: Why the guitar is so great, why they are so great and why "Rock" is so great. But thanks to some well-developed biographies and an eye toward the hidden history of rock & roll, what we get is much better.
As it turns out, Guggenheim only uses the meeting, staged in LA, as a centerpiece to a whirling, multilayered documentary; a jump-off point for broader stories. Any fan of these three guys will find a lot to like, but even casual moviegoers will chuckle on seeing early footage of U2 on an Irish television show, singing some forgotten tune called "Street Warriors." When Jimmy Page takes us to Headley Grange, where Led Zeppelin IV was recorded, I admittedly got chills as "When the Levee Breaks" started blasting on the cinema’s hi-fi. But for any non-fan, seeing rare footage of Zeppelin cavorting outside the mansion in 1971 is like peering into a time machine. In the case of Jack White, his tales of being a furniture upholsterer are as curious as they are revealing.
The other stand-out element comes when we delve into the influence of each individual aesthetic. There is an alternative history of rock & roll that eschews Elvis-worship, Beatlemania and hair metal altogether. In the protagonists’ case, this history includes skiffle-master Lonnie Donegan (via Jimmy Page), brash UK punks The Jam (via The Edge) and the a capellas of bluesman Son House (Jack White). Music fans might be keyed into these names, but casual filmgoers get to discover the Flat Duo Jets as Jack White pledges his allegiance, or Link Wray after Page spins "Rumble" off a 45 and takes us through each thrilling stage of its increasing reverb.
Biographically, we find there’s a lot we don’t know about these guys, either (when your band includes someone like, say, Bono, you tend to get overlooked). Footage of a pre-everything Jimmy Page is fascinating. When we see him tell the host of an early TV music show of his desire to go into "biological research," I couldn’t help but think: "Well, that’s kind of what he ended up doing." And when Page, again, tells us of crossing over into loud electric guitar and people’s resistance to it, he says: "It wasn’t doing any harm to anybody," before admitting, "Well, not then it wasn’t."
Jack White is left out a bit of this reminiscing (why didn’t The White Stripes stay together again?) simply because he is the youngest—though footage of playing with The Raconteurs, and cutting and bleeding all over his guitar, and continuing to play it, is compelling enough. Plus, he is pretty sexy.
Naturally, there’s a bit of hero worship along with all of this (egregious shots of people gazing into the distance, etc.), but sometimes it comes from unexpected places. In the jam session (which appears in spurts throughout the film), for example, Jack White noticeably grins like a 5-year-old boy when Page starts in on the riff from "Kashmir."
It Might Get Loud is not a perfect film by any measure (its on-the-nose ending made me want to leave before it was over), but it will end up being cited as one of the finer documentaries of the year. And, perhaps most importantly, it could have been a lot worse.
IT MIGHT GET LOUD
RATED | PG
OPENS | 8.28.09