It Might Get Loud

Movies Reviews
It Might Get Loud

Release Date: Aug. 14

Director: Davis Guggenheim

Starring: Jimmy Page, The Edge, Jack White

Cinematographers: Guillermo Navarro, Erich Roland

Studio/Run Time: Sony Pictures Classics, 97 mins.

Emphasis on “Might”

At the Toronto festival where It Might Get Loud premiered, a friend remarked to me that it “has Paste written all over it.” And sure enough, it does seem to be up our alley. Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, the director of An Inconvenient Truth, brings Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White together to talk about guitars and if they feel the urge, to, you know, jam a little. The result is a film that works as a brief chronicle of each musician’s life and career—chock full of old clips, photos, concert footage, recordings, and visits to pivotal locations—and a testament to the allure of a particular stringed instrument. But the much touted jam summit itself is the disappointing part, lackluster enough to function mostly as mortar between the bricks.

To help set the stage, Guggenheim conducts interviews with each guitarist separately. Jimmy Page takes us through his first experiences with a guitar, then to his early days as a studio musician, and finally up to the Yardbirds and Zeppelin. In his segments, The Edge talks eloquently about guitar gadgets and U2 (which is a surprise only because the lead singer of his band is usually the one hogging the mic). And Jack White spins a Son House record and stomps on the floor with a child dressed exactly like him, “Jack, Age 10.” White has the least personal history to draw on for these ruminations, but he’s also the one who’s most actively crafting his image, so his observations aren’t so much about how he got where he is—a topic he couches in mystery—but rather about his theories, like his need to fight the instrument. The other guys’ histories are all but set in stone, so White’s relative youth makes him a fascinating contrast. “My goal,” he says on his way to the summit, “is to trick these guys into teaching me all their tricks.”

As you might expect from a project designed to be a historic, spontaneous event, it doesn’t actually generate many real sparks. These guys have zero chemistry under the film’s bright lights, and Guggenheim’s frequent attempts to craft unpremeditated discoveries, or to convince us that he has, generally fall flat. Ironically, White says that audiences can tell when you’re faking on stage, and I’d wager that audiences in a movie theater can too.

But It Might Get Loud is still fun. Here’s an example of what I mean: In a house somewhere, The Edge points to a box of old cassette tapes. “I have no idea what these are,” he says, and then he sticks one of them into a player. A minute later we’re listening to an early, rough recording of the opening guitar riff to “Where the Streets Have No Name.” See, the filmmakers had no idea what was on those tapes. Pure coincidence! And yet what fun it is to hear the riff as the band is still working on it, to hear Bono count the odd time signature, and to hear Edge narrate like a music-theory professor talking. The fake spontaneity adds very little to what is already pretty cool.

My feeling about Guggenheim as a filmmaker, based on this and An Inconvenient Truth, is that he has such great material that his films stand up despite the often unnecessary shaping that he tries to apply. It Might Get Loud closes with the guys “learning” and playing “The Weight” on acoustic guitars, and it’s shot as if the filmmakers told the trio to bring something for the totally unexpected, impossible to foresee jam that ends the film. There’ll be a time and a place for it. Cameras and mics will be set accordingly.

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