Monday, January 11, 2010

Movie Review: "It Might Get Loud"

Jack White hammers together a contraption on the porch of an old farmhouse in Franklin, Tennessee. It's a wooden board to which he has attached a couple of nails, an empty Coke bottle, and a string that is tied to the nails. He inserts an electric guitar pickup coil under the string, turns on the attached amplifier, plucks the string, which sounds a loud TWANG and White slides a shotglass up and down the string, playing a blues riff. "Who says you need a guitar?"
So begins It Might Get Loud, a 2008 documentary by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth). This project assembles three of the most innovative guitarists in rock history: White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs), The Edge (U2), and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin). Each guitarist talks about how he got his first guitar, how his band(s) started, and his philosophical approach to writing and playing music. All three gather together on a soundstage to talk about the guitar and jam for a bit.
One reason why this project is interesting, besides the collective amount of talent on display, is that all three men come from different backgrounds and have radically different approaches to playing the guitar. Page grew up in London, played in a skiffle band (an early TV clip shows him as a teenager, introducing himself as "James Page"), got involved in the London studio scene where he recorded on tracks such as the Bond theme "Goldfinger," and eventually joined the Yardbirds before starting Led Zeppelin, where his use of distorted, overdriven guitars and bluesy riffs revolutionized hard rock music. The Edge grew up in Dublin, joined his U2 bandmates while they were in school together, and was influenced by the constant prospect of IRA violence. He uses a virtual army of different pedals, switches, speakers, and various other equipment to create his signature ringing, echo-reverb sound. White hails from south Detroit, where it was extremely "uncool" to play an instrument in the early 80's , lives to hear and play the blues, and shuns technology as much as possible, opting for cheap, old instruments and forcing himself to self-imposed limitations which he believes allows his creativity to flourish.
Despite White's early prediction that the meeting might devolve into a fistfight, the three get along well and probe each other for information and insight. A genuine chemistry has developed by the time they sit down and play through an impromptu version of The Band's "The Weight." Intercut with the meeting are scenes of White experimenting with instruments and equipment at his house, teaching a young protege, Edge giving a tour of the Dublin school where he, Bono, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen first began rehearsing, and Page visiting Headley Grange, the huge old house where Led Zeppelin recorded classics tracks such as the monumental "When the Levee Breaks."
If you are a fan of classic or modern rock, or you love to play/listen to the guitar, I highly recommend this film. Now that it is available on home video, I also highly recommend that you watch the deleted scenes, which offer additional entertaining moments like Page showing the guys how he came up with the riff for "Kashmir," White showing the others how to play "Seven Nation Army," and Edge checking his equipment by playing "Pride." However, if you own a guitar, keep it close by. You'll want to start practicing after you're done watching.

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