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March 2010

It Might Get Loud

featuring: Jimmy Page, Jack White, and The Edge

director: Davis Guggenheim

93 minutes (E) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Universal DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
review by James A. Stewart

It Might Get Loud

In this 'rockumentary', Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) brings together three of the most influential guitar players of the last half century to basically chaff about their experiences, creative process and anything else guitar related. In It Might Get Loud, Guggenheim cleverly fuses a triumvirate who not only represent three distinct eras in the guitar's progression - from skiffle beatniks through to today's not insignificant place in popular music - but who are also very different in their style and approach to guitar playing. It is the guitar equivalent of the generation game.

The underlying premise of the movie is to celebrate the versatility and history of the guitar and by having to hand The Edge (U2), Jack White (The Raconteurs, The White Stripes), and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin, Yardbirds). Guggenheim's job becomes easy and, in a wonderfully understated way, he allows the documentary to film itself as it flits between a group chat between the three, and their own pieces. It is in the latter where the real strength of the film lies.

The opening scenes show each of the three talking about their views on the guitar, The Edge's love for experimentation with effects and sounds is clear, as is his disdain for '16 minute' solos (you listening, Jimmy). Jack White then exudes the character of an eccentric who believes, "whatever makes guitar playing easy constricts the creative process" (you listening, Edge). Then, Jimmy Page, bless him, comes in and just basically shows the two pretenders up by reminding us just how many of rock's greatest riffs came from his nimble fingers.

Again, this is part of the allure, there is a conflict between the three styles and eras but what Guggenheim does well is to remind us that it is the same instrument after all. For example, the scene when all three guitarists are playing Zeppelin's In My Time Of Dying, taking turns to show their skill with some rather dirty slide, is outstanding.

Each guitarist has their own time on screen. The Edge really does come across as the accidental hero, a man who plays on his limitations as a technician; but as an innovator of sounds his influence is at times undervalued by guitar pursuits who think because he can't do the equivalent of musical masturbation down the neck he is a poor guitarist. His love for experimentation comes across loud and clear.

Jack White loves to experiment but in different ways, and it is clear his music collection consists mainly of early blues work and whist he is somewhat, well, weird, he has a very minimalist approach to his music. White's adaptability as a musician is, much like The Edge but for different reasons, overlooked due to his propensity to distort everything and keep it simple. But, again, he is a wholesome musician who shows an unerring love for turning basic ideas, and equipment (including furniture) into a coherent and enjoyable sound.

Then there is the star of the show; who also happened to produce the movie, and select the other two guitarists. No matter how much he tries not to be, Jimmy Page is the main man. His riffs, his stories, his affable charm (yes, I know he's a 'Satanist', ahem) just comes across as a man who has an undying love for music and his guitar. Seeing the smiles on the faces of his fellow musicians as they watch him play rock's easiest riff (Whole Lotta Love) is priceless. The scenes in his room as he plays tunes on old 45s are excellent. When you see Jimmy Page doing a damn good air guitar to Rumble, you know you have stumbled on something special.

This is a fascinating release, if not altogether unique. Aficionados of each musician will already be au fait with a lot of the back stories played out. What makes it work is the continued return of the focus back to the instrument - the real reason for the film. Where It Might Get Loud does disappoint is that the sessions with all three together just don't go deep enough, as if the conversation is sometimes superficial. There is no probing or brain-picking, only amiable conversation and some light insights. The extras are sparse, too - I am sure that there must be a lot of interesting stuff on the cutting-room floor - but that's a minor gripe about a quite brilliant documentary.

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