Documentary filmmaker found the convenient truth behind three guitar heroes

[13 September 2009]

By Jon Bream

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

MINNEAPOLIS — He has rock-star hair, rock-critic glasses and a movie-star wife.

Davis Guggenheim also has an Oscar for directing “An Inconvenient Truth,” the Al Gore documentary about global warming. He deserves an Oscar, a Grammy and a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his new documentary “It Might Get Loud.”

The film tells the stories of three guitar heroes from different generations — Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, U2’s the Edge and the White Stripes’ Jack White. In a captivating and illuminating way, Guggenheim deconstructs how the icons make their magic and tells their histories. In the end, they meet for a guitar summit.

Over a recent lunch, the filmmaker, 46, didn’t talk about his wife (Elizabeth Shue) or his famous father (four-time Oscar winner Charles Guggenheim), but he did talk about rock ‘n’ roll and movie making.

Q. Were these three guitarists your first choices?

A. Remarkably, they were. We made a big list of everybody. We could have easily had Eric Clapton and Eddie Van Halen. I was thinking of Prince for a while. It wasn’t about just having good guitarists. We wanted them to talk about music and how they became artists. These three seemed to be the right ones to do that.

Q. How difficult was it to land Jimmy Page?

A. Hard. A lot of people told us it can’t be done. We got an appointment with his manager; they were noncommittal. Then I got a call that Jimmy would meet me in London. On Wednesday at 2 o’clock. Where? “We don’t know yet.” Then it’s, “He’s coming to your hotel in 20 minutes.” He showed up in a cab. We had tea. I told him the idea of the movie and he said, “OK.” My pitch was that there would be no historians, no critics, no ex-girlfriends, no bandmates. It wasn’t going to be an analytical movie.

Q. How did you get Page to play air guitar?

A. I didn’t ask him. Can you think how many of us played air guitar to him? There he is, playing air guitar to Link Wray. Playing the right chords, on beat. ... The thing that was so surprising is what an open spirit he was. I never expected him to be so joyful.

Q. Who came up with the concept of Jack White teaching guitar to his younger self?

A. The more I do documentaries the more I learn that you can’t dictate where the story should go and where the characters should go. Jack came to the farmhouse and said, “I’d like to teach myself how to play guitar.” The next day he showed up in his car, dressed in bowler hat, bow tie, vest, suit pants, two-tone shoes and out of the car came a 9-year-old version of that. He said, “This is me as a 9-year-old.” I just went with it. I didn’t talk to the kid, and I haven’t seen him since.

Q. How long was the guitar summit with the three of them?

A. Two days. They were just talking and playing guitars as if it was their own little room. Jack and Edge had never met.

Q. Why is “The Weight” by the Band the song the trio plays together?

A. At the very end, they were about to go home. I’d been hearing very loud rock for two days, and I heard somebody noodling on acoustic. It felt like a tonic or a salve. I said: “What if we ended with an acoustic song?” That was as much direction as I gave the whole movie. Edge said, “Why don’t we do ‘The Weight’?” Nobody knew how to play it, and they spent an hour learning it.

Q. What are your favorite music movies?

A. I love “The Last Waltz.” I structured “An Inconvenient Truth” around the structure of “The Last Waltz.” I used it as a map.

The one that really helped me with this movie is “No Direction Home,” the (Martin) Scorsese movie about Bob Dylan. The tension in that movie is “How did this guy become Bob Dylan?” The movie is about what is the magic but (Scorsese) always circles it. That’s what I wanted to do with this.

Q. Where is your Oscar?

A. In my bedroom. It sits next to one of my father’s Oscars that I got when he died.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/111449-documentary-filmmaker-found-the-convenient-truth-behind-three-guitar/