Perfection is appealing but it’s seldom beautiful. True beauty is usually flawed. Would Marilyn Monroe be as memorable without her mole? An incredibly stirring concert performance may be riddled with musical errors. But would Jimi Hendrix’s live performances be more moving if he’d never strayed from his sheet music? Would Charles Bukowski be an even better writer if he never took that first drink? Many would argue that his weakness is what helped shape his viewpoint and thereby strengthened his voice. What if Salvador Dali had only painted in realistic perspective?
On that note, I submit It Might Get Loud is a beautiful work of art…and deeply flawed. As a fan of guitar-driven rock music, I love the movie and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. As a cinephile who’s seen everything from 1915′s Birth of a Nation to 2009′s Nation’s Pride, I have qualms and haven’t been able to stop thinking about them.
Oscar-winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim’s It Might Get Loud is a nearly impossible thing to review. It’s not a salacious peek behind the scenes a la Decline of the Western Civilization; isn’t a nostalgic puff piece along the lines of The Last Waltz; it isn’t a biopic like A New York Doll; not an ostentatious Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars performance film; and it’s not about one musical event such as Woodstock.
The rockumentary takes its title from words spoken by U2′s The Edge, one of three iconic guitarists featured alongside Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and The White Stripes’ Jack White. It does get loud, but not in a confrontational way — even though, at its core, it’s about rebellion. Page found his sound by resisting the complacency of staid studio sessions; Edge by protesting war; and White by rising above literal and creative abject poverty. Are Page’s blues any less stirring than White’s, even though he grew up in comfort? Are Edge’s gadgets any less impressive than White’s, even though his rationale for using them is from a completely different perspective?
If you’re looking for the answers to questions like that, you will not find them. In the language of music, this movie is more akin to a meandering Grateful Dead concert than Green Day’s super-tight American Idiot concept album. To my mind, first and foremost, a documentary film is a movie so, while the content is absolutely electrifying, the presentation leaves a lot to be desired.
No, It Might Get Loud isn’t really a good movie…but it’s an amazing experience. While the story switchbacks between the three guitarists, often blurring the lines between their songs and abruptly changing tempo, it builds toward a laid-back, easygoing rock ‘n’ roll summit that’s pure magic.
One note is in East Hampshire at Headley Grange, where the seminal Stairway To Heaven will be composed. There’s a lyric in Detroit at the St. Vincent De Paul thrift store, where a 1950s Kay Archtop sits abandoned. And a melody in Dublin’s Mount Temple Comprehensive School where there is a want-ad for a guitarist tacked to a bulletin board. Each of these components come together to form a singular jam session when Jimmy Page, Jack White, and The Edge meet on a massive soundstage in Los Angeles where they play each other’s songs, listen to records, trade secrets, and yes, make mistakes. That’s the beauty of it.
And that’s my take as a film critic.
As a lifelong aficionado of rock, I was wowed by the unprecedented access to these men and the unconventional take on them as musicians.
While my passion lies much deeper with the likes of Page and White, I must say I learned a lot about Edge and grew to like and respect him quite a bit. While It Might Get Loud did not change my tastes (Joshua Tree will still be the sole U2 CD in my collection), I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the witty, wry, affable, and deeply humble human being and learning about his process as an artist. He relies on technology, but he shapes it and changes it from cold code into warm tones.
Page has mellowed over the years, but you can tell he knows he’s the top of this triangle. His talent is so immense that it appears effortless, and he is just as riveting playing air guitar in his living room as he is picking his famous double-neck Gibson onstage. He is at once the poster-boy for stadium rock excess and the personification of punk sensibility. At one point in the summit scenes, he plays the opening notes of “Whole Lotta Love,” and both Edge and White are genuinely awestruck.
White is clearly the youngest in every way but certainly the most precocious and impenetrable. He’s insistent about his love of the honest, raw and pared-down, but he’s clearly mindful and wily when it comes to prevarication, image-building and mystique. Everything is orchestrated…or is it? Maybe the persona is also the person.
The mix is an interesting one and sure to cause great debate and discussion (it already has, and the film won’t be released until August 14th). The Edge is not a frontman and has been in the same band since he was 17; Page has played with several groups but only found superstardom within one; and White is a jack-of-all-trades — master of everything from guitar to vocals to drumming.
They all have their quirks, gadgets and crutches, but each is shown excelling at something innovative and guitar-related (Edge’s effects; Page’s resonance; White’s distortion). There are highly entertaining scenes in the movie where the three of them try each other’s signature songs on for size. This will invoke ecstasy or ire amongst their fans and dissenters, for sure. (Me, I got multiple goose-bumps both times I saw the film.)
The guitarists express the expected angst, rebellion and lust for the muse which shapes all remarkable music, but there’s also a childlike joy and a sense of fun rippling throughout It Might Get Loud. Toward the end, the trio lay their guitars down and walk away, but soon enough, their curiosity gets the better of them and they can’t resist noodling on just one more song. They love what they do, giving us all the more reason to love them.