It Might Get Loud
It Might Get Loud is a documentary about a musical instrument: the electric guitar. It's a film about how electric guitars are made, how they are used to make sound, and how their users interpret them philosophically. But really it's a film about electric guitarists—those artists who paint jagged, reverb-laden sonic landscapes with their 6-string brushes, pedals and amps. It's a film about how we use tools like guitars to make beautiful and unexpected things like music, and how sometimes that music brings us together as a culture and launches us in the direction of the transcendent.
Directed by Davis Guggenheim (who won an Academy Award in 2006 for An Inconvenient Truth), It Might Get Loud follows a trio of iconic electric guitarists who, though probably not the best three guitarists in the world, are certainly three worthy ambassadors for the craft: Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2), and Jack White (The White Stripes and The Raconteurs). The film weaves a lyrical, artsy web of vignette, history, interview, and archival footage as we explore the meaning and beauty of the electric guitar through the lives of three of its most prolific practitioners.
The three men are also brought together in the film to meet for a discussion and jam session, segments of which are sprinkled at random moments throughout the documentary. Ironically, these scenes ring the most false of anything in the film. Set in some Hollywood soundstage with lights and cameras honed in on a set of couches where Page, Edge, and White trade stories and pluck away at an awkward acoustic rendition of "The Weight" (I pulled in to Nazareth, I was feelin' half past dead), this cosmic explosion of rockstar greatness feels disappointingly forced and phony. What was doubtless envisioned as some sort of epic guitar-summit-for-the-ages mostly comes across as a strange attempt to force camaraderie upon three very different people in efforts to give the film a binding glue. And in a film about artistry and organic experimentation, something as micromanaged as this "meeting of greats" is noticeably out of place.
Thankfully, most of the film focuses on each of its three stars individually, keenly observing their contrasting personalities, aesthetics and approaches to the electric guitar.
Exhibit A is The Edge. Born David Howell Evans, The Edge plays the part of the spiritual rocker. We see him doing yoga, playing his guitar (with amp) on a remote beach on the Irish Sea, and making philosophical remarks about how forests are a metaphor for guitar playing. Somewhere between Thoreau and Gandhi, The Edge uses his guitar in a distinctly otherworldly manner, meticulously employing the technologies and techniques at his disposal (effects modules, pedals, delay, reverb) to push sound to its outer limits. His glittering, patented sound crystallizes best in songs like "Where the Streets Have No Name," which we are privileged to hear both in stadium concert form and when The Edge plays a four-track recording of the early demos of his iconic introductory guitar riff. Where other rock star guitarists might get caught up in the "scene" (groupies, drugs, bad fashion), the sleek, refined Edge comes across as a minimalist zenmaster, an all-business shaman who wants to get in the sound, exploring its contours and possibilities with scientific precision.