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The Sundance Film festival is as much a showcase for documentaries as it is a venue for edgy independent fare. Hoop Dreams, Supersize Me, and An Inconvenient Truth all captured initial buzz from the mountain town festival. The director of Oscar winning Truth, Davis Guggenheim, brought a new film to this year’s festival. It Might Get Loud chronicles the genesis and subsequent evolution of three of rock’s premiere electric guitarists.
The film begins with an appropriately old-timey-clad Jack White building a rudimentary guitar on his front porch in five minutes. He uses blocks of misshapen wood, nails, and one thick strand of heavy gauge wire stretched over the bridge. After extracting several notes that could find a home on any White Stripes album, White wryly asks “Who says you need to buy a guitar?”
It Might Get Loud then travels to the musical developmental landmarks of White, U2’s the Edge, and Alister Crowley’s fiddle player—Jimmy Page. The film weaves interviews with each of the artists in their homes talking about how they achieved success and a particular sound with the three guitarists meeting on a comfy set to jam and discuss axe wielding. We see Jimmy Page visit the Welsh countryside house where Led Zeppelin IV was born; Jack White parents a 7-year-old version of himself by showing the boy the best way to kick out a piano bench to impress the ladies; the Edge’s guitar tech explains the precision physics behind his live performances.
Jack White explains the motive behind the Stripes’ manufactured back-story and how much of his inspiration comes from working in upholstery stores in rundown Detroit and listening to Son House.
Jimmy Page plays the elder statesman, wearing a mane of silver hair and the same impish smile he must have used to seduce throngs of teenage groupies. My favorite moments were all about Page, from the Edge and White joining him in the opening riff to “Whole Lotta Love” to his reticence for singing the movie’s closing number, an acoustic version of “The Weight”.
It is the Edge who is the most revealing, however. There’s the howling hypocrisy of trashing the pre-U2 Dublin music scene as something from Spinal Tap, and then pointing out landmarks around your old high school from whence the legend of U2 sprang. He also strips away the layers of effects to illustrate his playing style and technique. The revelation actually generates respect for the man by demonstrating his total dominance over advanced guitar sonics.
Interestingly, during the post-screening Q & A, Guggenheim stated implicitly that the three guitarists were the filmmaker’s first choices. Which begs the question: in what is an otherwise enjoyable twist on the music doc, why include only one American guitarist in a film about the world’s Lords of the Strings?