Rock of Ages
Three generations of guitarists
by Jason Blair
IT MIGHT GET LOUD: Directed by Davis Guggenheim. Cinematography, Erich Roland and Guillermo Navarro. With Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White. Sony Pictures Classics, 2009. PG. 97 minutes.
|The Edge, Jimmy Page and Jack White|
I confess to being less than mesmerized by It Might Get Loud, a documentary which aims to do for electric guitars what Wordplay does for crosswords. Which is to say, to celebrate them in all their eccentric glory. Directed by Davis Guggenheim, whose An Inconvenient Truth helped deliver Al Gore the Nobel Peace Prize, It Might Get Loud plays like an airy jam session with expectedly loose results. Occasionally sublime but sometimes ponderous, the film brings together Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, U2’s the Edge and Jack White of the White Stripes to discuss, over the course of a single day, their background, aesthetic and lifelong romance with the guitar. Interspersed with this guitar summit are scenes of Guggenheim chauffeuring each guitarist to significant places of his youth — which for White was all of a couple of years ago — where they recall, for example, the microphone schemes for “When the Levee Breaks” or the chord progression of “Where the Streets Have No Name.” For even occasional music fans, it’s a rewarding journey, if one that ends with a flat tire, of sorts.
Each musician reveals, in his own way, dimensions you don’t expect. White, looking like a refugee from Cold Mountain — he actually appears in the Civil War drama — turns out to be, in addition to a dedicated student of the blues, a pretty nifty marketing executive. (The film opens with him building a guitar with a soda bottle and a piece of wood, but before long he sheds his Deadwood-inspired persona.) The Edge, whose U2 is perhaps the most successful rock act ever, comes off as affable, eager and, most of all, humble. He and White positively grin when, about halfway through It Might Get Loud, the conversation ends and the jam begins with Page launching into “Whole Lotta Love.” It’s Page who emerges as the real surprise here, a man who, despite saying the least, inspires with his eloquence. His was a total immersion into guitar playing; he is one of the great innovators of the instrument celebrated by It Might Get Loud. Long rumored to be a casualty of the excesses of his era, Page instead comes off as a priestly sage who recognizes when words are inadequate.
The paradox of It Might Get Loud is how persuasively it makes the case that for Page and the Edge, full- length documentaries are in order. For White, that distinction may yet come, but for now it’s on the horizon. I hoped It Might Get Loud might lead somewhere interesting, even dangerous; when I realized it wasn’t leading anywhere in particular, I couldn’t help but wonder what Guggenheim was thinking. The film needs, for lack of a better word, a nerd, a moderating presence against which these rock gods could react. Even if Guggenheim can’t square the circle, so to speak, he could have at least circled a square.
It Might Get Loud opens Friday, Oct. 2, at the Bijou.