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It Might Get Loud

Director: Davis Guggenheim
Cast: Jimmy Page, Jack White, The Edge

(US DVD: 22 Dec 2009)

Review [10.Sep.2009]

“Dynamics, light and shade, whisper to the thunder, sort of invite you in, sort of intoxicating. Well, the thing that fascinates me about it, and always has about the six strings, no one has ever approached, they all play in a different way and, you know, their personality comes through.” – Jimmy Page


Bringing together three very different guitarists for one day in January 2008, It Might Get Loud offers a compelling portrait for the power of the guitar, and the freedom of expression it allows.  Director Davis Guggenheim focuses on Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White, allowing all three the opportunity to relate their own personal stories with the electric guitar, while also giving them the chance to play with one another in a looser environment. 


The stylistic differences between the guitarists are one of the key themes in the documentary. There is a nice juxtaposition between The Edge’s love of technology – he goes to great lengths in explaining all the effects and tools he uses in his playing – and White’s derision for those same advancements. Their equally strong opinions lend the documentary well placed counterpoints for different styles of playing. Although, to be fair, White’s denouncements of all things technological seem somewhat out of place considering his own use of vocal and guitar effects later on in the documentary, his strong preference for simplicity over technology is at the center of his emotional connection to the music he plays.


Guggenheim’s portraits of the three guitarists are meant to emphasize and reemphasize the guitar’s limitless possibilities. From White’s brutal battering of his instrument, to Page’s effortless shifts between gorgeous melodies and powerhouse riffs, to The Edge’s painstaking reimagining of simple chords to create his own distinct sound, their approaches initially appear to be completely at odds with one another. But when playing together the three exude a lightness and exuberance for music that is at the heart of Guggenheim’s documentary. 


Guggenheim follows each of the musicians to Dublin, Ireland; London, England; and Nashville, Tennessee. As they reminisce on the beginnings of their musical educations, Page, The Edge, and White all offer insight into their approaches in playing the electric guitar. For instance, there is much less precision to White’s playing, especially as compared to that of The Edge and Page, but his strong, head-on attack of the guitar mirrors his stories of a childhood spent fighting for everything he had. The other two play with an almost meticulous style that offers a nice contrast, while also offering a glimpse into their personalities.


For all the differences between the three guitarists, there are moments of striking similarity such as their almost accidental introduction to the instrument. Page speaks of moving with his family into a home where a guitar was left behind; White, one of ten children, played the drums outwardly rejecting the guitar until much later; and The Edge started in U2 without really even being able to play. Nevertheless, the guitar quickly became each man’s authoritative means of creative expression.


One of the highlights in the documentary comes when Page puts on Link Wray’s “The Rumble” and as he mimes along to the guitar parts, he breaks into a huge smile and his love for the music is apparent to anyone. Despite all his years in the music business, Page’s connection to the music of his youth is disarming. These smaller moments that speak to the strong, lasting relationship of guitarist to music are beautifully woven throughout the documentary to add a personal layer to what could have been a strictly academic exercise.


The three gather and talk about music and guitars, play records for each other, but don’t actually play together until over 40-minutes into the documentary. As the play around with U2’s “I Will Follow”, there’s a sense of playfulness to their interaction that’s almost surprising considering the caliber of musicians. There’s also a great moment when Page begins playing the opening riff from “Whole Lotta Love’ and The Edge and White look on, clearly awestruck. While all three guitarists are obviously very skilled and well-respected, the scenes that have them joyously engaged in each other’s playing are some of the more compelling ones in the documentary.


Guggenheim’s spotlight on the electric guitar gives way to a wonderful moment at the end of the documentary that has the three picking up acoustic guitars to do a version of The Band’s “The Weight” – making for one of the more relaxed and engaging performances in the whole thing. Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White bring an exuberance to discussing and playing the electric guitar make It Might Get Loud a lovingly put together portrait of an instrument that many may take for granted. 


The DVD includes a commentary track with Guggenheim, producer Lesley Chilcott, and producer Thomas Tull; the Toronto Film Festival press conference; as well as deleted scenes that offer more performances and interviews. These bonus features are a welcome addition to the release as the meeting between the three guitarists is one that warrants plenty of material.

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J.M. Suarez has been a contributing writer at PopMatters since 2008. She's happy to talk about TV any time, any place. Really.


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