It Might Get Loud

Movie Information

The Story: Three rock guitar masters -- Jimmy Page, The Edge, Jack White -- discuss their beginnings and get together to discuss their art. The Lowdown: A simple concept that works because the film at least offers the feeling that you're seeing its subjects at their most unguarded.
Score:
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Genre: Music Documentary
Director: Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth)
Starring: Jimmy Page, The Edge, Jack White
Rated: PG

It might not snag Davis Guggenheim another Best Documentary Oscar, but his It Might Get Loud proves that Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White make for livelier viewing than Al Gore. Of course, that probably wasn’t open to serious question in the first place. What was open to question in my mind was just how well this documentary on three guitarists from different eras and with different styles would play out. The idea of putting the three of them in the same setting had merit. And Jack White’s claim early in the film that he plans on tricking them into showing him all their secrets sounded promising. It also sounded just a little bit ominous, since it would have been easy for the proceedings to quickly devolve into three guitarists talking shop and jamming. From a non-musician standpoint, that could have proved deadly. Thankfully, that never happens.

Guggenheim’s film is cleverly structured to cut back and forth among the three—without emphasizing their time together till later in the film—allowing each to tell his own story of how he came to be who he is and where he is. It’s interesting, and in some cases, it’s telling. Even in the case of a performer you likely think you know pretty well—like Jimmy Page—you get a new sense of the man and his history. I had no idea, for example, that during his session-musician days Page was on the recording of “Goldfinger”—not that you’d ever be able to tell in the midst of all those horns and Shirley Bassey. In Page’s case, it’s also something of a relief to find that the man has finally stopped dyeing his white hair an improbable jet black.

The film serves as a history of each guitarist and offers a platform for each to espouse his own aesthetic notions about music and the guitar. This is interesting in ways you might not imagine, since the degree to which each is intent on making a strong statement about a personal aesthetic is in reverse of their ages. Jack White seems far more interested in verbalizing what he does and why he does it than is The Edge, who in turn is more interested in it than Page. Perhaps it’s a difference in personalities, but it might as easily be the expression of mellowing with age.

The scenes involving the three actually discussing things and playing together attain just the right degree of information and music without ever becoming too technical for the layman. And Guggenheim is smart enough to catch the expressions of both The Edge and White as they watch Page pick up a guitar and launch into “Whole Lotta Love.” And what a moment it is, seeing the younger men realizing that this is a moment few people will ever have. The jamming itself is surprisingly tight and never wears out its welcome. The three of them having a go at Page’s “In My Time of Dying” is, in fact, a highlight of the film. If you have any interest in one of these three performers, or even any interest in rock music in general, It Might Get Loud is essential viewing. Rated PG for mild thematic elements, brief language and smoking.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

16 thoughts on “It Might Get Loud

  1. Dread P. Roberts

    Wow! I had no idea that this was coming to town. It’s good to see a favorable review. Now that I’m unexpectedly caught off guard, I’m a little excited. Too bad I’m going to Lynchburg, VA this weekend. Hopefully this will still be around the following weekend. Where is it going to be playing? Fine Arts, I assume?

  2. Dread P. Roberts

    Now that I’ve backtracked, and read yesterdays Weekly Reeler, I see that this is playing at the Carolina.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Hopefully this will still be around the following weekend.

    That’s going to depend, of course, on how well it plays opening weekend, but since the Carolina has 14 screens chances are increased that it might hang around longer than one week.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I haven’t heard anything about it, but it’s possible. Just remember, the more people support offbeat programming, the more likely you’ll see similar material show up.

  5. Piffy!

    “In My Time of Dying” is an old, traditional Gospel, first recorded by Blind Willie Johnson, and is not the work of Jimmy Page.

    Obviously, he had a specific ‘version’ associated with him, but I do tire of hearing him get credit for songs he basically stole.

  6. Dread P. Roberts

    Obviously, he had a specific ‘version’ associated with him, but I do tire of hearing him get credit for songs he basically stole.

    It’s not really stealing; he’s playing a rendition. Practically every musician (either famous or not) does this (ahem – Eric Clapton). Oftentimes it can happen over and over again. (Look at Leonard Coen’s “Hallelujah” for example.) In most cases I would look at it as being more of a homage to the original artists song(s). It’s a way for an artist to kind of say where they’re coming from, and what has inspired and moved them along the way. I doubt that Mr. Page ever actually intended to be considered the original songwriter, or for his version to become the better known version. There is just such a plethora of music out there, that it is hard to know where every song originated. So what often ends up happening is the song version that the majority of people like, ends up becoming more of the standard as time goes by, usually through no fault of the artist.

  7. Piffy!

    [b]It’s not really stealing; he’s playing a rendition. Practically every musician (either famous or not) does this (ahem – Eric Clapton).[/b]

    If, by “practically every musician” you mean a handful of white ‘rock’ artists from a few decades ago.

    [b]I doubt that Mr. Page ever actually intended to be considered the original songwriter, or for his version to become the better known version. [/b]

    I am not speculating about Page’s intentions, although it wouldnt be the first time a rich white rocker got credit for a Black Man’s songs.

    [b]There is just such a plethora of music out there, that it is hard to know where every song originated. So what often ends up happening is the song version that the majority of people like, ends up becoming more of the standard as time goes by, usually through no fault of the artist. [/b]

    Even though many of those artists receive royalties and writing credits for song they ‘borrowed’. To imply this is all accidental is to be very naive as to the social structure of our country.

  8. Piffy!

    [b]It’s not really stealing; he’s playing a rendition. Practically every musician (either famous or not) does this (ahem – Eric Clapton). Oftentimes it can happen over and over again. (Look at Leonard Coen’s “Hallelujah” for example.) [/b]

    Is there anyone who doesnt know that “Hallelujah” is a Cohen song, even if they hear another version? And does anyone refer to it, as, say, Jeff Buckley or Rufus Wainright’s song? Or do they say, ‘so-and-so’s cover of Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. The same can not be said for the numerous songs stolen by a particular era of ‘musicians’ who offered a more ‘commercial’ appeal for a very segregated society. And it is this lingering sense of race and class that perpetuate the myth that much of Led Zepplin’s, or Eric Clapton’s discography is theirs.

  9. Piffy!

    [b]Well, yeah, he’s of the lefty boomer era. [/b]

    oh, hanke, you know me so well.

  10. Ken Hanke

    oh, hanke, you know me so well.

    As witness, “The same can not be said for the numerous songs stolen by a particular era of ‘musicians’”

    But really, I think you overstate the case by using some pretty broad strokes. And let me note that I am not a big fan of Led Zeppelin, nor of the blues in general — including these obscure old performers. I don’t think it has much to do with a segregated mindset, but that it has a lot to do with accessibility. The original of a thing is not necessarily the best or even the most memorable. Very few people even realize, for example, that there’s an earlier recording of “Without You” than the one made by Harry Nilsson, but there was — and the guys who recorded that version were thrilled that Nilsson wanted their song and thought he turned it into something better than what they did with it. (And these are all white guys.)

    None of this is new anyway. Al Jolson often demanded and received songwriting credit on songs without writing a note of them. His argument was that it was the way he performed them that would put them over. And look at classical music. How many compositions incorporate folk melodies or the “Dies Irae?” One of the main themes in Dvorak’s “New World” symphony is a spiritual called “Going Home.” Tchaikovsky’s “1812” overture is made almost entirely out of other music.

    The history of music could be said to be the history of a lot of guys ripping each other off. For me, it all depends on whether or nor the musician brought something new to bear on the material.

  11. Dread P. Roberts

    If, by “practically every musician” you mean a handful of white ‘rock’ artists from a few decades ago.

    Nope, that’s not what I meant. Just for the sake of sticking with a band that most people are familiar with, take a look at how many people have covered the Beatles (who are white):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_artists_who_have_covered_The_Beatles

    Even though many of those artists receive royalties and writing credits for song they ‘borrowed’. To imply this is all accidental is to be very naive as to the social structure of our country.

    Ironically, I think that you sound naive by claiming that this is all about racism. Furthermore, I wouldn’t call a song rendition borrowing. It is more often than not, the creative expression of an artist putting their own spin on the music that has inspired them. You even said yourself that “obviously, he had a specific ‘version’ associated with him.” It’s because of this detail that he rightly deserves credit, just like every other musician who does the same thing, and gets the same treatment. Would you like for me to go out of my way to find examples of black musicians getting credit? If you are content enough without me doing the research, then I wont bother.

    Is there anyone who doesnt know that “Hallelujah” is a Cohen song, even if they hear another version? And does anyone refer to it, as, say, Jeff Buckley or Rufus Wainright’s song?

    Oftentimes, when the subject of the song comes up, someone asks a question along the lines of, “which version?” Now, I don’t really see that it matters whether or not the original version is well known or not. In fact, I think it’s cooler when a lesser known song becomes popular because of a rendition. The potentially great song is all of a sudden getting the credit that it deserves, whereas it might not have otherwise. Plus, if people REALLY like the said song a lot, then they might have a desire to do a little research about the song, and suddenly be turned on to the original artist.

    The same can not be said for the numerous songs stolen by a particular era of ‘musicians’ who offered a more ‘commercial’ appeal for a very segregated society.

    Here’s the thing – Yes, racism has had an effect on the exposure of certain artist; and that goes for both sides, who are ‘usually’ prone to like a certain type of music. No, I don’t think that what Page was doing was simply attempting to commercialize ‘black’ music. I think that is just silliness. I think that he genuinely loved the blues, and was inspired by this style of music that just so happened to be made up of a majority of black musicians in the early days. I think that what he did was just the opposite of racism, he blended different styles together. Zeppelin helped to bring blues to rock, and fuse the two together. It’s because of Zeppelin that I discovered other great musicians like B.B. King, and I’m not alone in that. So what you see as a negative, I see as a positive. You can call me ignorant of you want, but I simply disagree.

  12. Dread P. Roberts

    …also, I want point out that another one of the musicians associated with this movie, Jack White, played a rendition of “One More Cup of Coffee” by Bob Dylan, on the White Stripes debut album. Believe it or not, I’ve run into a couple of people who like the White Stripes, and didn’t know that this song was written by Bob Dylan. Why? Not because of racism, but rather just being familiar with one artist more-so than another. In this instance, my guess is that it probably has a lot to do with an age gap between two different generations. I’m glad to see newer artists exposing the works of older artists, and I don’t care that they are getting paid for it either.

    Speaking of Leonard Coen and Bob Dylan, here’s interesting point to note. I think that both of them are brilliant songwriters, but I don’t particularly care for either of their vocals all that much. So when someone plays a rendition of one of their songs, I think it’s great! Now I get the great song, with potentially better vocals, and probably a new twist to an old favorite. The original song isn’t going anywhere; it’s not like the first song has been erased and replaced for all of time.

    The history of music could be said to be the history of a lot of guys ripping each other off. For me, it all depends on whether or nor the musician brought something new to bear on the material.

    Yes indeed, and I would stretch that even further to say that this applies to every art medium. That’s what artist due. They become INSPIRED by the works of other artist, and then they put they’re own creative outlook on the subject(s). Over time the art medium(s) evolve as a result of artists ‘ripping’ each other off. There is nothing wrong with this. It all a part of creative expression, and the growth of the art medium. I know I’m preaching to the choir here (well, mostly anyway) but movies do the same thing.

  13. The Zep deal isn’t that they did covers and people aren’t aware of the original versions, it’s that they did covers and took credit for writing them (as in actual official credit with the royalties that implies). And I say all this as a massive fan of the band. Here’s a handy list of Zep plagiarism I found in a desk drawer:

    * “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” – A folk song by Anne Bredon, this was originally credited as “traditional, arranged by Jimmy Page,” then “words and music by Jimmy Page,” and then, following legal action, “Bredon/Page/Plant.”
    * “Black Mountain Side” – uncredited version of a traditional folk tune previously recorded by Bert Jansch.
    * “Bring It On Home” – the first section is an uncredited cover of the Willie Dixon tune (as performed by the imposter Sonny Boy Williamson).
    * “Communication Breakdown” – apparently derived from Eddie Cochran’s “Nervous Breakdown.”
    * “Custard Pie” – uncredited cover of Bukka White’s “Shake ‘Em On Down,” with lyrics from Sleepy John Estes’s “Drop Down Daddy.”
    * “Dazed And Confused” – uncredited cover of the Jake Holmes song (see The Above Ground Sound Of Jake Holmes).
    * “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper” – uncredited version of Bukka White’s “Shake ‘Em On Down.”
    * “How Many More Times” – Part one is an uncredited cover of the Howlin’ Wolf song (available on numerous compilations). Part two is an uncredited cover of Albert King’s “The Hunter.”
    * “In My Time Of Dying” – uncredited cover of the traditional song (as heard on Bob Dylan’s debut).
    * “The Lemon Song” – uncredited cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” – Wolf’s publisher sued Zeppelin in the early 70s and settled out of court.
    * “Moby Dick” – written and first recorded by Sleepy John Estes under the title “The Girl I Love,” and later covered by Bobby Parker.
    * “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” – uncredited cover of the Blind Willie Johnson blues.
    * “Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You” – lyrics are the same as Moby Grape’s “Never,” though the music isn’t similar.
    * “White Summer” – uncredited cover of Davey Graham’s “She Moved Through The Fair.”
    * “Whole Lotta Love” – lyrics are from the Willie Dixon blues “You Need Love.”

    Some people have also pointed out that the riff from Stairway to Heaven is awful similar to Taurus by Spirit, but I’m willing to give Page the benefit of the doubt there.

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