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.