Imagine you’re at a party with a small group of friends, three of whom happen to be “musicians.” (By “musicians” I mean in college they could usually be found sitting in front of a tree, sporting a goatee, plucking out four chords and singing “Hey There Delilah.”) Say these three people discover that they all know how to play a certain song and say those people find a guitar or three at said party. Maybe they all keep a guitar in the car for such an occasion, who knows, just go with it. We’ve all been to this party at some point or another. How long would you guess it would take before these three start “jamming” to the tune of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion?” In my experience, this usually takes about 1.2 minutes.
Now imagine the three guys are Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2), and Jack White (White Stripes).
“It Might Get Loud” is a documentary that centers on the electric guitar and three of its biggest proponents. Half of the film follows Page, The Edge, and White around in their home life to get a feel for the genesis of their musical upbringings. In the other half, director Davis Guggenheim lets the three guitar legends into a room, turns a camera on, and allows the viewer to watch the action unfold with great anticipation. Altogether it is a phenomenally brilliant undertaking that should garner the attention of ANY music fan, young or old.
“Loud” gives the audience an insight into the mind and creative processes of these men, exploring the differences therein. Jack White is the mad scientist of the group in that he kind of throws things together on the spur of the moment and takes what he gets, good or bad. He’s a guy who relishes the challenge of playing a crappy plastic guitar, of mastering his opponent. The Edge, on the other hand, is methodical and deliberate. He practices and experiments for hours before defining a single line of notes. Jimmy Page just simply plays the electric guitar better than anyone else and in ways that no one else can. Like their processes, their sounds are dramatically different. White’s music is extremely raw and unpredictable. U2’s is much more dominated by effects and comes across much more refined. Zeppelin was, of course, much harder than their contemporaries but Page almost seems like a classical player compared to the other two.
Still the similarities and unity between the three is quite apparent. There are heavy punk and blues undertones rooted in the styles of all three and that aspect of their respective developments is deeply explored. All three are great students of their craft. One of the best sections of “It Might Get Loud” is a segment that gives each artist an opportunity to discuss their greatest influences. It’s not every day that you get to see Jimmy Page play someone else’s record and talk about how great it is and what kind of impact it had on him. Or to see the emotional and almost physical attachment Jack White has to the music of Son House.
In addition, it is fascinating to see the level of respect these three have for each other and their willingness to learn from each other, even at their advanced level of ability. These are not “good” guitarists or even “famous” guitarists. These are three guitar gods who you half expect to display polite niceties with each other but remain egotistically distanced. But as the documentary illustrates, nothing could be further from the truth. On his way to the studio, White says, “My plan is to trick them into telling me all their secrets.” You might expect this from White, who is by far the youngest of the three and (I would imagine) the least well known. However, while White played, both Page and The Edge were keenly watching his movements, attempting to pick up a trick or two of their own. Each seems to view the other with the highest regard and the conversation that flows between them is fantastic.
It’s no secret that I am likely biased towards liking this film. I love U2, I love The White Stripes, and I love Zeppelin. Were I to make my own list of living guitar legends, all three of these men would probably make the top five. But even I was not prepared for the magnificence of “Loud.” For me, this is the best documentary I’ve ever seen and, so far, the best film of 2009. Brilliantly shot and edited, this is an absolute masterpiece that only left me wanting more when the 90 minute run time sadly came to an end. A+.
I used to play “Kashmir” during warm ups for my P.E. class,