Should I Watch..? It Might Get Loud
What's the big deal?
It Might Get Loud is a musical documentary film released in 2008 and was directed by Oscar-winning film-maker Davis Guggenheim. It examines the history, techniques and styles of three legendary guitar players - Jack White, The Edge and the film's co-producer Jimmy Page. It also hosts a meeting between the three known as The Summit where they discuss their music as well as play some familiar tunes. Premiering at the Toronto Film Festival, the film secured a limited release in the US - it was shown in just 75 cinemas. Despite this, it still grossed more than $1.6 million in the US - ranking it in the top 100 documentary releases of all time in America - and the film also received critical acclaim upon release.
What's it about?
The central premise of the film is a musical meeting with these three legends, each with different stories to tell and each hailing from different eras. Jimmy Page learnt to play in a skiffle group before giving up the guitar to attend art school. Struggling to find work, he revives his musical ambitions as a session player for other artists before getting disillusioned playing other people's tunes. Eventually, he begins playing with The Yardbirds which ultimately lead to the greatest rock and roll group of all time, Led Zeppelin.
For U2's The Edge, he recalls and revisits the Dublin school where he first formed the band in 1976 along with Larry Mullen Jr, Adam Clayton and Paul "Bono" Hewson. The Edge heavily uses technology both to ensure that the notes he hears in his head are what are being reproduced in the studio as well as reinforcing the guitar's sound to "fill in notes that aren't there". White, meanwhile, grew up in a Latino district of Detroit and struggled to find a musical identity with hip-hop being socially prevalent. His interest in the blues led to him joining a band whilst working as an upholsterer which ultimately led to The White Stripes and The Raconteurs. For White, playing the guitar is about forcing himself to the limit in order to get the most out of the instrument - and sometimes beyond...
David "The Edge" Evans
Release Date (US - limited)
14th August, 2009
What's to like?
Anyone with a passing interest in music will be fascinated by It Might Get Loud which allows these great guitarists to speak in their own words about their work, history and techniques. As a long-time Zeppelin fan, it was amazing to hear Jimmy talk about how he got started in the business all those years ago and although he doesn't speak too much about his work with Zeppelin, you could see in his eyes the joy when walking around Headley Grange where some of the band's best work was recorded. I loved the respect and reverence that The Edge and Jack had for Jimmy, evidenced by their smiles the minute Jimmy starts playing the iconic opening riff from "Whole Lotta Love".
While you could argue the merits of who else might deserve to stand shoulder to shoulder with Jimmy Page (Slash, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, James Hetfield, Jeff Beck, etc), Edge and White provide interesting case studies. White comes across the worst, sounding like an pseudo-intellectual whilst trying to live like his idolised blues heroes of yore like Robert Johnson. Edge, meanwhile, is happy to let technology play a part (something which doesn't sit well with White's resolutely old-school approach) but his style of making music is not too dissimilar from the others. It's about trying to get the sound in your head to be heard in the studio and each of them do in their own way. Of course, the film comes alive when the jamming starts but the soundtrack is still well worth trying to track down, assuming they released it. Here's hoping.
- The Edge talks in the film about his reaction to the spoof documentary This Is Spinal Tap: "I didn't laugh - I wept. It was so close to the truth".
- Jack wrote and recorded one of his solo songs - "Fly Farm Blues" - in about ten minutes whilst the film was shooting. It was released as part of the soundtrack as well as a promotional vinyl release - only 300 copies were produced.
- All three have contributed to themes for Bond films. The Edge co-wrote the theme to GoldenEye, Jack White performed with Alicia Keyes on "Another Way To Die" for Quantum Of Solace while Page reveals that he played on the theme tune for Goldfinger as a session musician.
What's not to like?
White's stripped-down, ultra-aggressive manner of playing seems at odds with the more natural style of Jimmy or the wizardry of Edge. But even without a guitar, he still seems almost competitive as though the Summit is a physical fight to determine the best guitarist in history. I found his behaviour and attitude off-putting and welcomed the moment when the film's focus shifted from him to the other two. He also uses way too much feedback for my tastes and as much as I can listen to the man play, I wouldn't want to be in a bar with him.
As a music fan, I would have liked a bit more chat from the Summit which feels like an unsatisfactory and lazy way of bringing the film's narrative to a head. Despite the magic of seeing these three guys play together, I reckon that the conversation between the three of them might have been interesting to hear. Still, I guess we'll never know - they probably fell out with Jack the same way I did.
Should I watch it?
It might lack the joy of seeing each performer play a live set but It Might Get Loud is an interesting and enjoyable way of getting to know the men behind the music. Jimmy's nostalgia, Edge's vision and Jack's visceral power combine to create a glowing tribute to the electric guitar which continues to be the cornerstone of most music released today. Maybe, for a sequel, they could get Dave Grohl, Phil Collins and Lars Ulrich together for a chat about drums. You could call it "It Might Get Louder"...
Great For: rock fans, guitar players, pub conversations
Not So Great For: people who can't decide who should have been in the movie, listeners of classical music, hip-hop fans
What else should I watch?
Speaking of Dave Grohl, he himself directed a touching tribute to the rundown studio in California which hosted recording sessions by Nirvana and a host of other rock legends. Sound City has everyone from Trent Reznor to Tom Petty discuss the studio's colourful past and its influence on those sessions. Other films worth checking out include the epic and very thorough documentary about Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Runnin' Down A Dream while British viewers might like to watch Live Forever: The Rise And Fall Of Brit Pop.
The term "rockumentary" implies some degree of self-deprecating humour, to me - I find it impossible to separate the term from This Is Spinal Tap with its miniature Stonehenge, amps that go to 11 and songs like "Sex Farm" and "Lick My Love Pump". But sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction - Anvil: The Story Of Anvil follows the Canadian heavy metal band as they embark on a disastrous tour of Europe and question whether they should give up on their dreams of stardom at the age of 50. To some, it's the best rock documentary ever made.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox