It Might Get Loud
Three Rock Musicians Send a Valentine to the Electric Guitar
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Credit: Sony Pictures Classics
KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando reviews the new documentary "It Might Get Loud"
If you’ve ever played air guitar, here's the perfect film for you, "It Might Get Loud" (opening August 28 at Landmark's Ken Cinema). This documentary is a valentine from three rock musicians to the electric guitar.
"It Might Get Loud" opens with a brilliant do-it-yourself demonstration by Jack White. He whips together a single stringed electric slide guitar from a piece of wood, a couple nails, a length of wire, a Coke bottle, and a tiny amp. Then he cranks out a few notes and looks to the camera, "Who says you have to buy a guitar?" His point is simple, if you have a passion for something, nothing should keep you from it... NOTHING.
The premise of the documentary "It Might Get Loud" is simple too: take three generations of rock musicians, throw them and a few instruments in a room together, and see what happens. White suggest there will "probably be a fist fight." No fisticuffs occur but there's a lot of mutual admiration on display. White is the youngest of the bunch and still has something to prove. Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page is a classic rock legend and he describes U2's The Edge as a “sonic architect.” The varying philosophies of the three artists drive the film.
The Edge is fascinated by technology, “I'm very interested in what hardware can do to an electric guitar sound…”
On the other hand, White suggests that technology makes things easier but at a cost: “Technology is a big destroyer of emotion and truth… that's the disease you have to fight in any creative field, ease of use.”
The differences between the two musicians are visible in the instruments they choose as well. There's the old plastic Airline guitar White has used for a decade with the White Stripes, and the multiple guitars, each calibrated for a specific song, that the Edge uses with U2. Then you have Page who's prone to romantic analogies equating the curves of his guitar with the female form: "it's like a woman, you know, you can caress it like a woman.”
Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim gives his film a casual structure, as if we’re just sitting in on a jam session. He also cuts away to scenes of each man revisiting his past to discuss where his obsession began. If you share a musical passion with these artists you may get even more from the film than I did, but even someone as musically challenged as myself can enjoy the passion these men display for their art and their guitars. Getting inside any creative process is fascinating and these three prove surprisingly articulate and candid in discussing their craft and their love of what they are doing.You'll leave the theater with a greater appreciation for what each one has done.
Guggenheim gets each man to talk about his career, his influences, and about the changes each has seen. Page talks about pushing the threshold on volume with new inventions like “a distortion pedal which overloads the signal, overdrives the sound and make it sound pretty rude.”
The Edge is all about experimentation and explains, “I drive everyone crazy, I drive myself totally crazy, trying to get the sound that I hear in my head to come out of the speakers. It's my voice, that is my voice coming out of the speaker.”
The Edge gives clear examples of what he's talking about:“I this echo unit and I brought it back to rehearsal. I just got totally into playing but listening to the return echo filling in notes that I'm not playing like two guitar players rather than one, the exact same thing but a little off to one side and I thought of ways to use it like no one else had.”
Guggenheim also gets the musicians to open up. White talks a lot about honesty and truth but likes to hide behind a carefully constructed persona. In describing the White Stripes, he says, “By having a brother and sister band with red, white, and black being the complete aesthetic, it was childish, and we presented ourselves in a real childish manner, almost like cartoon characters, a lot of distractions to keep people away from what was really going on, which was just that we were trying to play this.”
“This” being the blues by the likes of Son House. Page for his part reflects on the self-indulgent solos popular back in the70s and spoofed in the film "This is Spinal Tap."
“Spinal Tap” was a movie I watched," Page says, "I didn't laugh, I wept it was so close to the truth.”
It's fun to see all three men hanging out, playing riffs of favorite songs, reminiscing about the music they love, and trying to steal a little from each other along the way. Guggenheim captures them in a relaxed atmosphere and being themselves. So when Page plays a few notes of "A Whole Lotta Love," the reaction from The Edge and White is priceless, It's the giddy delight of fanboys in the presence of their idol. And at 65, Page is still himself a fanboy -- look at the glee he displays listening to Link Wray's Rumble -- with a passion for rock and roll and cranking it up to 11.
Companion viewing: "This is Spinal Tap," "The Song Remains the Same," "Rattle and Hum," "Sympathy for the Devil"
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