Thursday, October 08, 2009

It Might Get Loud (Movie Review)

Early on in the inspired and inspiring music documentary It Might Get Loud, Jack White of the White Stripes confesses that he has his own agenda for participating in a guitar summit with Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and U2's The Edge.

White, 34, whose six-string skronk and charismatic front-man work also enliven the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, admits that he wants to con his older brothers in rock into giving up some of their sonic secrets. "I'm going to trick them into teaching me all their tricks," says White, who's dressed all in black and effects a '30s-gangster look.

Maybe he's just jesting. At any rate, there's not much in the way of spilled secrets, onscreen at least, in the film, directed by Davis Guggenheim (of global-warming tract "Inconvenient Truth").

Page, 65, 48-year-old Dave "The Edge" Evans and White aren't particularly verbose when it comes to shedding light on the science of their art, or, really, the meaning behind their music. They'd rather let their axes talk.

And they do, in some informal sessions at a warehouse-looking place in Los Angeles. There's hero-worship gawking, when The Edge and White look on as Page cranks the riff from "Whole Lotta Love," and some noodling, and a rather bland acoustic version of The Band's "The Weight" that ends the film.

But Guggenheim's mission is far broader than simply assembling rock musicians from three generations for a little jamming and chatting. Instead, he wants to get at how these guitarists arrived at their playing style and sound, how that affected their respective bands, and in turn how popular music was influenced (particularly in the cases of Led Zep and U2).

And the filmmaker largely achieves that goal, delving into the beginnings of each musician, and cutting between individual stories and the group meet in a loose and quite appealing manner.

The white-maned Page talks about listening to British skiffle and American pop, and recounts his decision to quit working as a studio player after a session that was too much like Muzak. He subsequently studied art for a while, before playing with The Yardbirds and then Led Zep; we see clips of both bands. At his mansion, he plays a vinyl recording of Link Wray's "Rumble" and can't stop grinning, and he walks around the Headley Grange house where Led Zep's fourth album was recorded.

The Edge demonstrates his ability to turn even the simplest chord into a symphony of chiming, reverberating, hypnotic sounds via an arsenal of effects pedals and other devices -- the unadorned opening notes of "Where the Streets Have No Name" are contrasted with the song's larger-than-life incarnation at an arena. He takes viewers on a tour of the Dublin school where drummer Larry Mullen posted the musicians-wanted ad that led to the creation of U2.

The band was inspired by early punk and viewed its music as a reaction to the pomposity of the day's reigning rock bands, including the hair-metal acts, a breed perfectly parodied in the film Spinal Tap, says The Edge. Meanwhile, U2 is in the midst of a ginormous, high-priced tour employing the largest set in rock history. Ironic?

Then there's White, who, in the film's opening sequence, is seen assembling a homemade box guitar, plugging it into an amp, and letting it rip with sweet and nasty sounds. As a child in Detroit, he crammed his bedroom so full of musical equipment that he barely had space for his bed, and he worried that hip-hop's dominance potentially meant the death of guitar rock. White, unlike Edge, hates gadgetry, and he shares his enthusiasm for the work of early bluesman Son House.

Guggenheim also makes a point of fetishizing, at least a little, several of these musicians' cherished instruments, including Page's Fender Stratocaster, The Edge's Gibson Explorer, and White's bloodied Kay Hollowbody.

To its credit, and for our listening pleasure, six-string ecstasy has survived as a force in popular music. It Might Get Loud does an admirable job analyzing the guitar mojo of one genuine legend (Page) and two other gifted guitarists, all of whom are doing their part to keep the art alive. Turn dial to 11.

1 comment:

Banana Librarian said...

Thanks for this compelling -- to me, at least -- review. Guess I gotta take the hubby outta Plant City to find this one, huh?