Friday, January 8, 2010

It Might Get Loud

On the surface this might seem like a vanity project designed to make some already famous rock stars look even cooler than they already are, and at some level that is exactly what this is, but when one digs deeper this turns out to be one of the best movies ever made about the creative process, the intricacies of stardom and the abiding love affair rock music has had with the electric guitar. The premise is simple enough: put three huge rock stars from three different eras in a room together and let them talk about and show off their electric guitars. When the stars are Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) The Edge (U2) and Jack White (The White Stripes) it seems obvious that this will be no ordinary jam session, and it most certainly isn’t. In fact, very little jamming really goes on at all. The majority of this fascinating film is taken up with each of the guys talking about their love of and mastery of their instrument. It quickly becomes clear that each of these guys; Page the elder statesmen, Edge, the mysterious, reserved technician, and White the hot-shit, brash new kid all have an uncommon relationship with their instruments. Their accomplishments as songwriters, rock stars and humanitarians are put in the back seat so that they can show us how much they love their axes.

The film really has two components. The first is the time they spent together on the soundstage rapping with each other and showing off licks. For instance in one scene (actually found in the bonus material) White teaches the other two one of his signature licks. It is totally simple, but both Page and Edge mutter “brilliant” as they try to play it along with White, who looks like it is not lost on him that he is teaching Jimmy Page and The Edge one of HIS songs, and they are hanging on his every word. The second component follows each guitarist individually as they retrace the steps of their own development as musicians. These moments hold the greatest treats as Page air-guitars to a Link Wray single in his very own man-cave, or The Edge shows us the bulletin board in his high school where U2 drummer Adam Clayton put up a notice for “bandmates wanted” or when Jack White, with the aid of a young actor, teaches himself at 9 years old what the blues are all about. Through deft editing and unprecedented access to the musicians, we get a view of some very famous people as they have never been seen before. They appear, for all the world, to be exactly the same kind of fanboys that those of us who love them actually are. The thrill of seeing Jimmy Page teach the riff from “Kashmir” to two other rock stars is really cool, but to see him as a vulnerable teenager talking about his love for skiffle music and hopes to one day be a medical researcher really opens your eyes to how human these guys are. Yes, Page is the wizard, the most devilish man in rock history, but really, he’s just a kid with a handful of 45’s and a dream to play guitar, and that makes this an incredibly insightful film for people who like their Gods to have feet of clay. I have not enjoyed a movie about rock music as much as this one - maybe ever.
Paul Epstein

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