Rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t have to be “three chords and the truth,” but damned if It Might Get Loud doesn’t show that it can be about six strings and a whole lotta luck. In the film, guitarists Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White meet and discuss at “The Summit,” where they got their ideas, how they create their music, and, ultimately, how they feel about that notoriously volume-enhanced instrument known as the electric guitar.
The film’s title comes from a quip from the U2 guitarist, and it is an apt statement for the genre itself. Indeed, Page, the Led Zeppelin guitarist, would speak of the importance of “light and shade” within his music, but it is the pure power of rock in its zenith format: the amp all the way past 10, to that mythical ‘11’ which brings the message home here in this landmark film, which celebrates the instrument with the help of three guitar greats, each carefully selected from a different generation of trend-setters.
Davis Guggenheim is best known for his award-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, a film centered on the impact of humans on our environment, and helmed by a powerful narrative performance from former vice president, Al Gore. Here, Guggenheim lets his hair down, so to speak, and crafts a fine statement of where a rock musician gets his inspiration, and how environment—that word, again—plays a part in the process. Indeed, the documentarian captures all three musicians in their home environments, and circles back to some of their early developmental artistic touchstones like the Ireland school where U2 had its humble origins, and the Detroit upbringing of White, of White Stripes and Raconteurs’ fame.
The most amazing discovery is the fact that Jimmy Page, an infamously secretive man and musician, almost to a fault, allowed access into his home. In one of the film’s most pleasurable moments, the Zeppelin overlord plays Link Wray’s “Rumble,” in the sprawling music room of his home. One almost rubs the eyes and scratches the head: “how did Guggenheim get access to THAT?!”
But, he did, and the man’s reputation speaks for itself, and is further solidified with this superb documentary about inspiration and initiative, confidence and chutzpah. The stories that are most compelling, arguably, are those offered by a humble and technically-challenged Edge, who admits that he is more fascinated with effects than melodies, and Page, who helped pioneer so many guitar innovations in the 60s and 70s that one is startled at his youthful demeanor on camera. Ironically, it is the man with the least amount on his résumé, and with few memorable songs to his name, who comes across as pompous and primitive. Perhaps, that is White’s way as he champions old school recording methods and instrument, over modern day technological jumps. However,
White gets it a bit wrong when he doesn’t realize that it takes a human to program those damn things, and, often, new and exciting inspiration comes from crazy new inventions. Obviously, Phish’s Trey Anastasio springs to mind here, as a fine example of a guitarist who combined the wizardry of Page and the effects of Edge into one larger overall groove, but, maybe, Guggenheim wanted someone with as great an age difference from The Edge to White as The Edge is to the 65-year old rock god, Page.
In a humorous deleted scene, Page rolls his hands all over the place near the eccentric Theremin machine, and it produces such weird effects that one sees, again, the childlike joy and imagination float outwards from the face and body of the Zeppelin mastermind. It is a truly added bonus as the man’s art—the December 2007 lone Zeppelin reunion gig at London’s O2 Arena, notwithstanding—has been dormant for a decade-plus at this point.
Davis Guggenheim has crafted another classic film with an original premise and forthright determination. Kudos to the documentarian for getting three completely different subjects, for the most part, strangers with the exception of a random photo shoot, or backstage hello, to find so many common bonds just by plugging in a guitar to an amp, and letting the fingers fly where they may. And, sometimes, those fingers hit upon a classic riff, such as “Whole Lotta Love,” and the smiles around the room underline a note of recognition that, like film, will hold strong for decades to come.