We’re going there to have a chat, but it just so happens that the instruments are sort of there as well, so… who knows?
– Jimmy Page summarizes the entire movie.
On January 23, 2008, [Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White] came together to discuss the electric guitar.
– It Might Get Loud summarizes itself.
It’s been said that music isn’t the notes themselves, but the spaces between the notes. Just like the best music you can remember, this movie has more truth and insight with regards to music, musicians, the guitar, and rock’n’roll in the little moments between answers than can be written by everyone involved in the production. To say that I could watch this movie every day for the rest of my life and never have it grow stale doesn’t feel like hyperbole.
It Might Get Loud is a documentary from director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth). The two summaries up top are more calculated misdirections than they seem at first blush. While the movie is indeed centered around the conversation that evolves between the three musicians, it’s built around lengthy biography sections that delve into their early influences, first rehearsals, brushes with writer’s block. None of the stories are related in chronological order; U2 appear on TV after hearing about their first public concert behind their school and their improvised class rehearsal space. Jack White tells his story of growing up in Detroit after he discusses his songwriting and performing philosophy. Jimmy Page talks about whatever Jimmy Page damn well wants to talk about, and only when Jimmy Page damn well feels like it.
Honestly, it doesn’t feel like a movie. It doesn’t feel like a documentary. The closest I can come to describing the experience of watching this movie is a music listening party with Page, Edge and White stopping the songs to play along and talk about how they came up with them or why they chose this song to play. It’s a shame that we live in a world where adjectives like awesome and magic are cliché. Occasionally a movie like this comes along and you realize you have no real way to describe it without sounding like a tool.
It Might Get Loud explores such topics as their influences; Link Wray’s The Rumble’s profound effect on Jimmy Page as a young man, Edge being inspired to play by the Ramones and how Son House set the tone for all of the White Stripes’ career. It’s odd to think that skiffle and punk inspired Led Zeppelin and U2 respectively. Jack White, being a fundamentally open sort, writes only the blues he was inspired by. It asks them about their instruments; Jimmy’s Strat, Edge’s Explorer and some piece of crap Jack got as payment from his brother for letting him use his truck.
The character of the three men comes through on film, not only through their music and their instruments. During the conversation, during every interview, in all the file footage, Edge is constantly guarded and thinking. He doesn’t stutter when he talks. He considers every action he takes; actions befitting the “sonic architect” he is. There’s a sequence where he’s arrived at “The Summit”, and he and his guitar tech are trying to reproduce a sound in Edge’s head with two full racks and 20 footpedals of effects. The Edge is a considering man, and it comes through in everything he says. The story of how he and his brother built a guitar might be the origin of his technological focus.
Jack White might be the sexiest man in the room. He plays old, battered guitars that have gone unloved for most of their lives because he wants every note to be a struggle to express what he’s feeling. He records his demos to a reel-to-reel with an awful microphone and an out of tune guitar. The movie opens on him, puffing away, building a one-string guitar on his porch with two pieces of trash wood, a few nails, a pickup, a string and a coke bottle. His fingers bleed when he’s playing a show with the Raconteurs. His favourite song is Grinnin’ In Your Face by Son House. After playing the vinyl copy he’s likely had for decades, he’s still blown away by the power of the recording.
Jimmy Page is every inch the retired badass you’d expect the world’s most famous lead guitarist to be. In everything he says, every move he makes is the character of a man who has changed the world and is now happy to live off the profits in his beautiful English country house. He doesn’t notice Jack White trying not to laugh at the roadie shrugging a guitar onto his shoulders so he can play Whole Lotta Love. He just goes into playing the most identifiable Led Zeppelin riff in the catalogue. Everything he says carries the implication of “I’m Jimmy Page, I have enough money to buy this entire project and have enough left over to buy out the tickets for your show at Madison Square Garden this fall.” I don’t think there’s a moment in this movie where he isn’t visibly having fun.
These guys get along like old friends. Jack’s prediction of a fist fight between them is sadly revealed to be unfounded. They get along so well because they’ve grown up with the most important mutual friend in each of their lives. As men who are defined by who they are when they hold a guitar, they’ve spent their entire lives making sure their voice comes through in everything they’ve done. As a result, the movie is a showcase of three of the most interesting men who’ve ever made music. The movie is fascinating to us because it’s fascinated with its subjects.
There are more little moments of truth in this film than I can gush about in the rest of this review. The song the Ramones are playing in the file footage, a missed chord in The Weight, Jack White’s reaction to Jimmy Page’s description of The Rumble. The film as a whole is unique. There are no ways to express the understanding you gain from watching it. It’s a movie that speaks to anyone with any creative urge in their life. It speaks to anyone who likes to listen to music. It’s magic. And it’s awesome. FOUR STARS