Rock is dead, they say. Or, if not dead, then at least appropriated by new-age fizzy emo bands like Fall Out Boy and Paramore. Now, don’t misunderstand; it’s not that these bands aren’t talented. It’s just that the idea of rock music has been shifting a lot in the last few decades, from the three-chord paint-by-numbers structure of the late ’50s to the falsetto-tinged pretty boys of today.
“It Might Get Loud”
At the State
And among the many musicians who have lived in the in-between, Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White stand out. Maybe not as the best guitarists, necessarily (that is a separate, immaterial debate), but as three guitarists who understand the ways of the guitar. They know how to bend the sound around their environment, how to fiddle with their amps to produce crazy but not overloaded effects and how to simply make their instruments their own.
Putting these three masters in a room together with their guitars sounds more like an epic jam session than a full-fledged documentary film. And yet here we are with “It Might Get Loud,” the new movie that does exactly that. Even though the film isn’t interested in revealing great, hidden truths about its subjects, it’s still an absurdly fascinating ride through the past and present of three crazy good musicians.
If nothing else, “Loud” most closely resembles a 90-minute free-form rock song. The film cuts between the backstories of White from the White Stripes and the Raconteurs, The Edge from U2 and Page from Led Zeppelin as though telling different verses with the same melody. It doesn’t go chronologically, and the filmmakers aren’t trying to tell the life stories of the three so much as they’re on the hunt for clues as to what influences and experiences make up a rocker. There’s a mixture of archival footage and on-location shoots in which the musicians tour their old stomping grounds and point out which furniture they would move to make room for their instruments.
In between the three different stories, we’re treated to Page, The Edge and White sitting on couches inside a giant, cavernous sound studio, talking about how awesome blues music is and teaching each other their tricks. And director Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”) is smart enough to know that he can show five minutes of The Edge naming chords as he teaches the others “I Will Follow” and the audience will still be hooked.
Out of the mountains of footage that were probably shot for this film, Guggenheim is able to latch onto the images and sequences that leave a lasting impression on viewers. Like White playing blues music with his young son, whom he dresses in miniaturized versions of his own outfits much like Ben Stiller’s character in “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Or Page’s humongous record collection, which stretches from floor to ceiling along all the walls of a room in his mansion. Or White again in performance footage, shredding through a rendition of “Blue Veins” that makes his fingers bleed profusely over his guitar’s body.
Now, we could get into nitpicky, personal things with “Loud.” We can admit that it’s annoying when a picturesque shot of Times Square, accompanied by a voice-over from The Edge gushing over how his first visit to New York City was “like the movies,” is followed almost immediately by grungy footage of Detroit as White makes a lot of ambiguous, may-or-may-not-be-dismissive statements about his old life there. Detroit made White who he is today, and the city’s influenced so many other rock musicians over the years that its subdued appearance in this film is an insult, especially when compared to the elegant treatments that London and Dublin are given.
Yes, White’s made it very clear in other interviews that he still admires Detroit. But whether he just didn’t want to talk about his hometown here or the filmmakers had already decided they were going to paint Detroit as a music wasteland, there’s almost none of that admiration on display in the movie.
But ultimately, of course, where they came from only supplements the music that they play. And “It Might Get Loud” is unquestionably about the music, from the opening credits that fetishize every possible aspect of the guitar to the end credits that scroll over the guys’ dirty, guttural cover of The Band’s “The Weight.” Come for 90 minutes of pure unfiltered guitar bliss, and leave chanting, “Long live rock.”