Movie Review – It Might Get Loud (2009)

It might get loud for a few seconds.” – The Edge, on getting ready to play in the movie.
Maybe a fistfight will break out.” – Jack White, on being asked what might happen when the three got together.
There’s always that point where you’re too old to pick the guitar up. And we’re just trying to keep that day far, far away and out of sight.” – Jimmy Page

From IMDb: “Rarely can a film penetrate the glamorous surface of rock legends. It Might Get Loud tells the personal stories, in their own words, of three generations of electric guitar virtuosos The Edge (U2), Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), and Jack White (The White Stripes). It reveals how each developed his unique sound and style of playing favorite instruments, guitars both found and invented.

Concentrating on the artist’s musical rebellion, traveling with him to influential locations, provoking rare discussion as to how and why he writes and plays, this film lets you witness intimate moments and hear new music from each artist. The movie revolves around a day when Jimmy Page, Jack White, and The Edge first met and sat down together to share their stories, teach and play.”

I was curious how this movie came to be. It turns out that the producer, Thomas Tull, is an ardent guitar and music lover. He says, “I was thinking how, on a global level, the personification of contemporary music IS the guitar… this instrument captures everyone’s imagination. As a fan, I wanted to see a movie that captured the essence of why people are so fanatic about the guitar.”

He chose these three guitarists because “We wanted to show a wide range of styles and eras by focusing on three of the best players in the world from three generations … and they said yes!” (Spoken like a true fanboy – ME). .

So how is this flick? Well, good enough that Sonny Boy watches it every now and again for what, inspiration? But it’s really not, IMHO, a genuflection towards the guitar so much as it’s a celebration of these guys’ love for music. The guitar just happens to be the way they express it.

If you’re expecting some megajam, forget it. The amount of screen time during which these guys play together takes up maybe 10 minutes out of a 90-minute movie. Most of the film consists of individual biographies of each of the guys or – when they’re together – involves them talking about music, playing their favorite tunes for each other or listening to their influences.

Of the three, Jack White comes across as the most purist (and the most cocky). For a guy who is big on punk, most of what he talks about and plays on-camera is the blues. In fact, the movie starts with him building a crude home-made guitar. (And why does he keep referring to ex-wife Meg as his sister?)

Stripped down, it shows his style to be very primitive, very Americana, very country blues. In fact, he says his favorite tune to this day is “Grinnin’ in Your Face” by Son House. It’s just a guy singing a capellla and slapping his hands together. But it’s that, that raw gutbucket hellhound feel that White says he’s always chasing in his music. (We shouldn’t be listening to this song on YouTube or Spotify but rather an old, cheap record player.)

Spotify link

The Edge comes across as the humble, down-to-earth guy I think we all suspect he is. Now, as much as I dig his playing, to some extent he reveals his limitations as a player. Whereas Jack White will build a guitar out of a piece of wood and plug into a toaster if that’s all he can find, Edge has always relied heavily on effects like delay.

So he demonstrates how a lick he plays doesn’t sound like much till the effects kick in. And his guitar tech is positively rapturous about how each song in a 23-song set has a different effect. I like Edge’s playing, he’s done a lot of great stuff. But he’s no improviser and for me, I’m much more in the Jack White plug-in-and-go camp.

When you are aware of the voraciousness of Jimmy Page’s playing, it’s always a bit disconcerting to hear him talk. With his now-gray hair, he comes across more like an English professor at Oxford than a rocker. Until he plugs in, that is.

This is clearly not a meeting of equals. It’s Jimmy Page – and two other guys. He is clearly the eminence grise here (he’s old enough to be both their fathers) and even though the other guys don’t treat him with any special deference, watch their faces light up when he plays the “Whole Lotta Love” lick for them and they realize that he is Moses bringing down the One Commandment.

When he shows them the double-neck guitar he used for “Stairway to Heaven” I thought they would drop to the floor with a hearty “we’re not worthy.” (Which, BTW, I had already long-since done.)

Playing-wise, this clip of them doing “In My Time of Dying,” is maybe my favorite. All three guys play slide and Edge proves he doesn’t need all the effects and plays with a sweet George Harrison-like feel.

Anyway, I think you get the idea. You don’t have to be a guitar lover or even a guitarist to dig this movie. You do have to be somewhat of a – for want of a better expression – music enthusiast.

And I think this doc does a great job of digging into the psyches of these players and figuring out what makes them tick. Best of all, in a way, it’s just like those of us who blog about music. We’re not famous rockers but we love to share tunes and talk about the music we love. So do these guys.

Stay tuned all the way through the credits as the guys do an acoustic version of a song You Will Know. It requires three-part vocals but Page admits he can’t sing. (You’re fired, pal.)

Sources: Wikipedia; Movie web site

It Might Get Loud, Sony Pictures Cinema. Directed by Davis Guggenheim. (An Inconvenient Truth; Waiting for Superman.)

27 thoughts on “Movie Review – It Might Get Loud (2009)

  1. Shame that they didn’t get a few other guitarists on board for this… or even make something of a sequel / limited TV series. Showcasing different styles… Satriani, Vai, Joe Perry, Van Halen, Slash and maybe alternative players like Dave Navarro, McCready, Cantrell, etc. In fact, loads more! They could get a couple of seasons out of it.

    However, I get the point of it… and maybe I’ll see it at some point just to catch those moments between them.

    I was thinking maybe White was referring to his sister cause it was before that news broke, but this was 2009 – so way later. Strange one… I guess the band was still an ongoing concern at that point and it was all built on a lie, so best to keep up appearances?

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    1. I think the three guitarists was a small, tight enough circle to keep it intimate. This felt to me somewhat like a vanity project for this billionaire producer. That said, I kinda like your idea of, at the very least, a sequel with other guitarists on, say, HBO or someplace.

      As to Jack and Meg, boy, I don’t know. She’s a cute chick so it’s not like he’s trying to distance himself. I guess maybe they just thought it would be part of their overall quirkiness .

      BTW, the movie shows a clip of a drum/guitar group called Flat Duo Jets who were a huge influence on White. And yet he went after Black Keys later for copping “his” style.

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      1. Flat Duo Jets, eh? I’ll need to check them out. I guess his issue with Black Keys will be based on them being around at the same time (or there abouts). Flat Duo Jets an older outfit? Still, it takes some balls to get on at a band for coping your style when you’re not exactly a game changer (though I guess you could argue they were a game changer in this age).

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  2. I’ve seen pieces of this doc. Thought it was pretty good. I think we’re on the same “page” (sorry) concerning Jimmy, Edge, and White. I like Edge’s unique rat-a-tat-tat style, and White’s appreciation for blues masters like Son House, but Page for me is the only real “virtuoso.” Also, I think a lot of people overlook that he wasn’t just a blues-rocker, but he was a huge fan of English acoustic/folk artists like Sandy Denny, Bert Jansch, Al Stewart, and Roy (“Croys”) Harper. In fact, Zeppelin ripped them off almost as much as they did the blues guys!

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    1. Yeah, totally on the same page. In fact, one of the first – if not THE first tune – Page played for Plant was Joan Baez’s version of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.” They loved all the players you mentioned and were Joni Mitchell fanatics. (As was Prince.) As to Page, there is no one he would not “borrow” from. And he has paid hefty settlements and I predict that with the “Stairway” lawsuit back on, he’d better dig deep.

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  3. Yep. It would be nice if the Randy Wolfe family could get a little dough.

    Both Page and Plant have excellent taste, that’s for sure. Plant even gave a nod to Love and Moby Grape at Zep’s HoF induction. (Wish both bands were in there.)

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    1. Even though Plant was in Manchester, he was big-time into the San Francisco sound (Grape, Airplane, etc.) I think that like a lot of people in that era, he romanticized the whole hippie/SF thing.

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      1. I think so. “Band of Joy” has a hippie-dippy ring, doesn’t it? Love and Spirit were both L.A. bands, and I think he was enamored with the entire West Coast. Combine this with Page’s blues and folk leanings, and a good rhythm section, and you’ve got magic.

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  4. Real good piece Doc (more Siskel and Ebert to come I hope). You pretty well hit my thoughts on this. I wasn’t chomping at the bit to see this but was very glad I watched it. I have been late to the Jack party. Didn’t know a lot about him. He was rubbing me the wrong way for a while in this. I warmed up to him and came to like him and his creativity. He is certainly carrying the torch from the past. Not a pretender. Including Edge was a good choice by the filmmaker. It was obvious that Page was the elder statesman and I dug the quiet respect he was given. My favorite part was when Page was listening to the Link Wray cut and was digging it bigtime. Hey, no different than us (being fans of music) other than he plays a wicked guitar. i love his playing. You’ve made me want to watch it again.

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    1. It occurred to me afterwards that – savvy filmmakers that they are – it was wise to include a couple of different generations, marketing-wise. Old fools like me wanna see Page but then you get the younger dudes who are into Edge and White. Interesting that as well-versed in the blues as Page is – and he is – Jack comes across as the old-timey minstrel. he played in a flick you might recall, “Cold Mountain.” They approached Ryan Adams for that role but he turned it down.

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      1. What I like about these kind of films is it’s all about the music and not a bunch of other horse shit. I’ve seen White since (in a couple other docs) and he truly is a keeper of the old ways. I really like music docs like this one.
        What I remember about that film was everybody was in one movie and the starlet was in another. Everybody had mud and shit on them except her. Good soundtrack.

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  5. I’ve yet to catch the entirety of this one. From what I have seen I’d say it sounded like an awesome idea on paper but perhaps doesn’t quite live up to the promise.
    Part of my problem with it is Jack White – as you say “comes across as the most purist (and the most cocky.” I don’t buy his ‘purist’ attitude as genuine (as evinced by the face that he has now so wholeheartedly embraced the modern that he’s got half a dozen heavily-customised EVH – yeah, that EVH – guitars and is something of a brand ambassador) and how his whole schtick distracts and detracts, like the kid in his bio bit who was meant to represent his younger self or some BS.
    As for Page – yeah it’s strange to see him now until he plugs in and lets it rip and I’ll never get tired of watching him walk through his parts

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    1. I forgot about that whole ‘young Jack’ thing. What was THAT all about? Yeah, White does come across a bit twee. And I don’t know if his bluesman thing is more of a pose than a real thing. But for me, as I think we’ve discussed before, I have to overlook these guys quirks and peccadilloes or I would very little music to listen to. (E.g, if I was horrified by the idea of someone “borrowing” others’ music, I could never tolerate Page.) Also, I think Jack has given us some really good music and well, thank God for anybody who still rocks in this world of Taylors, Britneys and Kanyes.

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