March 25, 2010

It Did Get Loud

The documentary "It Might Get Loud" isn't just for electric guitar freaks, or fans of "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band 2." It's for music fans everywhere. Directed by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, who directed the Oscar-winning "An Inconvenient Truth," "It Might Get Loud" brings together guitar legends from three generations -- Jimmy Page, Dave Evans a/k/a The Edge, and Jack White -- to share their passion for the electric guitar.

Meeting in a sparsely equipped sound stage in Los Angeles, Page, Edge, and White sit on sofas and discuss their favorite music, their songwriting techniques, and the career paths they followed to get to the top. The movie also spends time with each guitarist alone in his element and at landmarks of his past -- Page at the Headley Grange house in England where some of Led Zeppelin's legendary albums were recorded, The Edge at the Dublin high school where he and his fellow U2 band mates met and first played together and at home on the Irish coast, and White in the Texas countryside, where It Gets Loud for the cows near his front porch.

In the film, Page comes across as the guitar wizard, who helped usher in the modern era of electric guitar playing with innovations such as the distortion pedal and the dual-necked guitar (one with six strings, one with twelve, so he could play "Stairway to Heaven" live). The Edge is the most articulate of the bunch, his precision and economy with words echoing that of his guitar playing. However, some U2 fans may be surprised to discover that much of Edge's distinctive sonic wall guitar sound comes from a dizzying array of special effects technology, including a huge board of foot-activated switches through which separate effects for U2's most famous songs are pre-programmed.

But surprisingly, the true genius is the youngest member, Jack White, whose vision of re-creating the roots music of the original 1920s and 1930s bluesmen such as Son House is pure and unshakable. Of the three, White is also the performance artist, whose visual accoutrements range from the hat, vest, and bow tie of the bluesman to the red, white, and black aesthetic of his former two-piece band The White Stripes. In his film segments, White also incorporates a young, similarly dressed actor who plays White as a youngster, so that the older Jack White can impart his musical wisdom on himself as a boy. White also likes to play cheap, out of tune, even broken guitars, and constructs a crude electric guitar out of little more than wood, nails, wire, and a Coke bottle.

Perhaps the most joyful moment of "It Might Get Loud" is when Jimmy Page plays one of the most famous electric guitar riffs of all time, Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love." The supremely accomplished White and Edge are reduced to beatific smiles, White's head tilted like the dog in the old RCA ad, as they watch just how Jimmy does it.

If you rent "It Might Get Loud," be sure to watch all the additional footage contained in the special features. Besides extra playing by each guitarist alone and together, it contains a press conference from Toronto in which one clueless reporter engenders snickers by asking White about casting his "son" in the film. Then, White confidently shows his fellow guitar gods how to play The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army." When finished, White tells them, "that'll be five dollars." And a worthwhile lesson it it is.

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