Monday, November 23, 2009

Review: It Might Get Loud

Property The Daily Gamecock

* * 1/2 / * * * *

In talking about the best rock-n-rollers of our time, it’s not uncommon to hear the word “legend” tossed around. Academy Award-winning director Davis Guggenheim’s latest documentary, “It Might Get Loud,” wallows in the mythic statures of electric guitarists while trying its best to figure out what rock is all about.

Guggenheim, who turned a PowerPoint lecture into captive entertainment with his last feature, “An Inconvenient Truth,” brings together Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Jack White of The White Stripes and The Edge of U2 for a roundtable discussion on the state of rock ‘n’ roll, electric guitars and a once in a lifetime jam session.

Bringing together these three disparate but well-respected talents is surely an interesting idea, but one that nevertheless ends up undercooked and sporadic. The three gather in a warehouse and sit on furniture, exchange polite small talk and eventually teach each other some songs and technique.

The key word in “It Might Get Loud” is “might,” for the film never really cuts fast and loose. It lacks spontaneity and creativity. If the guitarists act too polite around each other, Guggenheim seems too nervous to fully engage his own staged event.

His cameras sit on the sideline of an impromptu stage, slowly circling, desperate to capture something. By not guiding this “guitar summit,” forcing his subjects into interesting and different directions, Guggenheim’s respectful reverence for their status as important musicians keeps his project from delivering extraordinary results.

That doesn’t keep him from trying to “demythologize” the guitarists. In between the scant sequences of the guitar summit, Guggenheim follows The Edge and Page around formative sites of their band’s budding years as they enthusiastically tell stories that may be interesting for those who don’t know much about either band, but rarely turns over new stones.

Using a wealth of archival footage, “It Might Get Loud” borders on an odyssey through multiple generations of rock ‘n’ roll, but its considerably flawed idea is that these three musicians provide the jumping off point for probing that history.

Yes, each has done wonderful and different things with an electric guitar. Yes, each of them talks about their instrument and their craft with gleeful enthusiasm. And yes, there is a certain level of satisfaction that comes from hearing the Edge play the early four-tracks of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” or watching White construct a makeshift guitar out of scrap parts.

“It Might Get Loud” has no thrust, no deeper exploration of the medium. Guggenheim and his directors of photography do find superbly beautiful ways to photograph the instruments, and while the film is never boring, it’s rarely fully satisfying.

This documentary provides the opportunity to learn a thing or two about the philosophy and technique of the electric guitar from three very serious and very diverse artists. The information in the film should fascinate serious music fans and enamor casual listeners.
If only the empty warehouse where Page, Edge and White mingle and rehearse had exploded instead of simmered. If only these artists had debated more, probed deeper into each other’s styles or merely jammed longer. If only the film had, to borrow from Spinal Tap, gone to 11.

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