"Every night we went on stage, it was living"
The opening sequence of It Might Get Loud features White Stripes/ Raconteurs guitarist and vocalist Jack White constructing an instrument with mostly items one would find on a farm. We watch White piece together wood, a single string, a coke bottle, a few nails and two guitar parts. He then plugs it into an amp creating a rip-roaring riff using the coke bottle as a slide. White finished and right before he takes a whiff of his cigarette he ever so simply states, "Who says you need a guitar"? Jack White exhibits minimalism at its best. Give the same materials to anyone else and they would shoot you a look like you should be committed. White saw it as a challenge and managed to assemble something (music) out of nothing. Davis Guggenheim‘s It Might Get Loud is full of dozens of moments like these and isn't your customary documentary by any stretch of the imagination. Your typical documentary would sit down each guitarist for a discussion and cut back and forth between video clips. Guggenheim did something more electrifying. There are interviews, but they take place in locations that formed who they are and in a face-off between all three guitarists on a London soundstage, which was filmed in January 2008. In the end, these three men don't just teach the viewer a thing or two about their craft, but each musician probably walked away with not just a new appreciation of the other two, but themselves as well.
One of the twentieth century's greatest inventions was the electric guitar and over the course of 100-minutes, three guitar gods from different generations (The Edge, Jimmy Page and Jack White) try to define and express what this instrument means to them. This film could have gone horribly astray, but director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) managed to come away with a bevy of footage as these three men discuss their love affair with this six string instrument. The mutual respect and admiration these three men show one another is astounding, even if they are polar opposites. The Edge is quoted in the film as saying that drum solos are self indulgent, yet Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin had drum and guitar solos at the core of their show. Jack White is a minimalist and believes that technology has hindered music whereas the Edge is completely invested in all of the hardware and nuances that make the guitar a different animal. White fights the ease that technology grants instead embracing the way the original records were made from the 40's, 50's and 60's. While all three may come from dissimilar experiences and view their instrument differently, in the end, it's all about the music and making a bond with people and for this writer all three connected to me in ways I never could have imagined.
The film shifts between the three of them facing off on a London soundstage and separate scenes where all three individually revisit locations with sentimental meaning to them. Jack White records a song for the director on the spot on his Nashville property, the Edge is finding his way through what was the lead riff for "Get On Your Boots" and Jimmy Pages premieres two new instrumental pieces he had been working on. The film takes these three distinctive talents and peels layers off of them in a way that a casual observer and even the most fervent fan would enjoy. What happens when a higher power bestows a talent so magnanimous that it influences generations (Page), the prospect of thinking out of the box and how technology can bring the guitar into the 21st Century (The Edge) and a man whose viewpoint and attitude is so pure and genuine, how can you not admire the way he creates music (Jack White)? The lightning bolt of inspiration for all three comes from a piece of wood with six strings. The film takes us back to how they became introduced to the guitar and tells the stories of their first guitars with sweeping romanticism. It Might Get Loud does more than just take a look at this instrument and three men who have defined it, but allows the viewer to telescope into these three men's dreams and desires while simultaneously being a vessel for the audience as well. We live their dreams along with them through their music, their concerts and this film. That's an evocative sensation when one believes they are along for the ride and are more than a mere observer.
Watching the Edge breathe life into a few mere chords which eventually became "Get on Your Boots" is enthralling as it is bitter. We see him fighting with the guitar to find the right chords and the right sound all for one song. It's bitter because I despise the final product that came out this year, but the film makes me appreciate the riff all that much more presenting that exhilarating flash of exploration and discovery. Yet when the Edge is sitting with Page and White firing off the riff to "I Will Follow", a song that is three-decades old, and the other two are playing along, you could see the thrill in Edge's face. The guitar God at this moment was reduced to a fan boy and he loved it. There are some surreal moments where the Edge revisits the high school where all four members of U2 attended. He stands on the platform of where they made their first public performance, he visits the room where the band rehearsed (badly according to the Edge) and walks to the infamous bulletin board where Larry Mullen Jr. posted the flyer in hopes of starting a band. "We didn't believe anything could change" says the Edge referring to the overall feeling and landscape of Ireland in the 1970's. In explaining himself to White and Page, the Edge helps give perspective to why U2's tackled such weighty subjects at such a youthful age. This feeling of despair would infuse U2's music, the Edge's guitar and their view of the world. It also probably foreshadowed his desire to constantly push the electric guitar to limits never seen before. Without a desperate atmosphere surrounding them, U2 probably would not have become the band they became.
Jimmy Page returns to the house where they recorded "When the Levee Breaks" and you can see this is more than a trip down memory lane but within it are ghosts from his past. Page mentions how he stopped reading reviews because one magazine blasted Led Zeppelin's fourth record in a one paragraph review. This was the record that had "Stairway to Heaven", "Rock N' Roll", "Black Dog" and "Misty Mountain Hop". Sometimes history is the best revenge and while Page is a legend beyond words, you can sense the criticism early in his career stung him. Page is the ultimate gentleman and in some ways, it saddens me that deep down I know all he wants to do is get his band back and create, experience and share his music with the world. He is forever Jimmy Page but I can see there is a part of him that wishes he was still out there on stage. One may think this is more about ego than anything else but one look at Page flipping through his record collection may not seem like anything extraordinary, but watch his face as he strums air guitar to Link Wray's "Rumble". He's thirteen all over again as a childlike smile is permanently fixed on his face as he plays air guitar. The look on his face is the same one we see in a vintage clip from his pre-teen years where he was on television playing guitar. Anyone who thinks someone of Page's stature is out of touch with reality needs to take one look at these two scenes and know that in the end, he's ultimately he hasn't changed all that much and that he is one of us; a fan.
I've always admired Jack White profoundly but this film elevates him to an entirely distinctive level. Instead of following trends and styles, White has stretched back to the past in the hopes he can touch the brilliance of lost bluesmen that at times had no other way to express themselves than with their hands and voice. White's penchant for music was so infectious that in his 7x7 bedroom back in Detroit growing up, he had two drum kits and moved the bed out. What I have always found so admirable about White is his clear focus on the past. He knows that the roots of rock n' roll are in the blues and he attempts to tap into that inspiration. His experiences in Detroit give him credence to try and embrace the struggles of those who came before and possibly learning something about himself in the process. You are only as good as those who came before you, so the question is what can you take away from it? White has at times has been criticized for not being all that original, but I can't see how anyone could walk away from this film not being a believer in his art.
In the end, what the director shows us is that each one became the artist they are today because of their environment. There's no rhyme or reason as to why certain songs or artists invade our soul, they just do. A series of events that may seem mundane could change not just someone's life, but the world. Towards the end of the film Jack White proclaims "We're all attempting to share something with another human being". This one quote defines the existence of an artist. Whether one paints a canvas, directs actors, writes or plays an instrument, deep down, we're all trying to have a collective experience where we feel connected to one another. White's statement is one that is so unpretentious, yet is rarely divulged or discussed among artists. As the credits began to roll (and you will want to stay for all of them), I thought back to the memorable quotes offered b y the Edge, Page and White. While all vastly dissimilar they all create music because it is in their blood, a life-force, oxygen to their system. This is what gives them a purpose in life. Watching It Might Get Loud will inspire you to not just find your calling, but to maybe be a tad more earnest in attaining your dreams. Regardless of what you think about any of these three, when the lights go off and the roars dissipate into the air, what is one left with? The music.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.
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It Might Get Loud (Film Review)