There is a tendency in rock journalism — and rock documentary filmmaking — to focus on personalities and bad behavior at the expense of the music.
“It Might Get Loud” (Sony Pictures Classics) is a refreshing change in direction — a documentary designed to explore the musicianship of guitarists Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin), The Edge (of U2) and Jack White (of The White Stripes). These men are rather colorful personalities, to be sure, but producer Thomas Tull and director Davis Guggenheim spend most of the time showing us how they got into music, what it is about the guitar that grabbed them, and how the three men continue to explore their relationships with the instrument.
The artists were brought together by the filmmakers in a Los Angeles studio for interviews and jam sessions. In long cutaways, we are shown mini-biographies of each guitarist, packed with wonderful performance footage.
Since Page is the oldest of the trio, his sections of the movie are perhaps the most entertaining because they open a door into more than 40 years of pop music history. Page picked up the guitar at 12 and became an accomplished London session musician before he was 20. It’s fun to look back at the London scene of the early to mid-1960s where Page worked on an incredibly wide variety of records (including the great Shirley Bassey recording of the title tune of the 1964 James Bond film, “Goldfinger”).
The material on The Edge (right) shows us how the punk movement of the late 1970s inspired a whole generation of kids that included the guitarist and his U2 bandmates. The deceptively simple musical style of U2’s early recordings is traced in detail by The Edge as he takes us through some old demos and talks about the role that “repeat echo” has played in his guitar performances.
Jack White (above) is the most whimsical and guarded of the three men — something to be expected of the youngest one in the trio and a guy who still seems to be crafting a public persona. I’m not sure that I believed all of White’s anecdotes about growing up poor in Detroit 20 years ago, but there is unvarnished truth in every piece of his music that we hear.
Anyone looking for the sex and drugs components of the rock lifestyle will be sorely disappointed by the way that Tull and Guggenheim ignore whatever skeletons might be rattling in the closets of the three men. If you love the music of these men, however, you will have a fantastic time watching “It Might Get Loud.”