Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Movie Review: It Might Get Loud

(For the radio version, please click here).

Air guitar is silly. I know this, yet in private, I shred my air axe. Do you strum your thigh, finger your palm, and weirdly jerk around, to the straining guitar of a good rock song, as if in a seizure? If so, then “It Might Get Loud” is for you.

Very roughly, “It Might Get Loud” is about a meeting of three guitar greats, Jack White of the White Stripes, The Edge of U2, and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. They discuss their early days, seminal music influences, and the moment they found themselves as artists over mere guitarists. On this simple framework the filmmakers hang cutaways to concert footage, old news reels, and even animation, to help us visualize their stories.

There is no storyline so much as free flow of anecdotes, air guitar (oh yes, Jimmy Page does awesome air guitar), and impromptu jams. There is not much context. You are not with any one guitarist too long before another narrative begins. It’s a little disconcerting, but covers a lot of territory, and is helpful in keeping the movie clipping along. The movie only settles down when the players stop talking and start playing.

Not much time is spent trying to convince you these guitarists are great. If you are unfamiliar with any of these performers (as I was with Jack White) it’s best, I think, to latch onto the story of the guitarist you are most familiar, and allow them to convince you the other two are worthy.

For me, it’s The Edge. I listened to U2’s the “Joshua Tree” for months and memorized every song. When the film shows U2 concert footage of “Where the Streets Have No Name” it hit me in the gut. If you’re a little older, maybe it’s Page and Zeppelin. And if you’re a little younger, maybe it’s Jack White. All the same, this film is about their, and our, love of authentic music, music that makes us pull over the car and listen, music that changes culture, illuminates our place in the world, and reconnects us to our roots.

Jack White comes across as a 14 year old prodigy who is sullen and resentful because no one appreciates his genius. The fact he is in his 30s and is recognized by millions makes him all the more obnoxious. Mr. White is not a sympathetic character. Yet, his passion is clear and his talent is considerable. And that’s the sign of a good documentary. It does not bathe Mr. White in a golden light. He’s kind of angry. And where I might not have him over for dinner, I will definitely be looking at his stuff on iTunes.

The elder, Jimmy Page, is a delight. There is a scene that depicts the love and respect Jack White and The Edge have for this man. The guitarists jam on some of their famous licks in the film. When it’s Page’s turn, the first riffs from “Whole Lotta Love” begin. Jack White picks up his guitar, reconsiders, sets it down, and just listens. The Edge never even bothered to pick it up. And for a blissful moment, the master plays. Jack White and the Edge beam like little boys.

“It Might Get Loud” plays at our beloved Gold Town Nickelodeon this weekend, Thursday through Sunday. This is Clint Farr, alone at the movies.

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