Monday, 21 June 2010

It Might Get Loud

Another blog post... Another music documentary...

I’ve been on a couple of longish train rides recently and finally got around to watching It Might Get Loud. Essentially it's a film about three very different guitarists from three different generations. They talk about what they do and what inspired them to pick up a guitar in the first place. And, most importantly, it is a film where they play music - individually and together. The guitarists are Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White.

Originally uploaded by yellowlinephoto
For me, it doesn’t work as a documentary. There is a structure there, or at least the film-makers have tried to impose a structure, but it’s not telling a story in the way the Rush film did, so I felt the structure was tacked on rather than scaffolding a finished whole. As a result, the film was episodic and while each of the episodes were individually interesting, I don't think it held together as a single piece.

What did work really well though, and what I liked best about it, was hearing them play their music and seeing their enthusiasm for music. For example, Jimmy Page puts on a vinyl single of Link Wray playing Rumble and looks like a kid in a sweetie shop! He clearly loves the piece and that he desperately wants you to love it too is clear from the way he describes it ...and plays along to it ...on air guitar! It is an outstandingly good segment and I suspect some of my fellow train travellers wondered why I was suddenly grinning like an idiot while I staring at a laptop screen!

What was impressive was their dedication to the guitar. The Edge at one point is talking about what inspired him to start playing and cites seeing The Jam and other similar bands on Top Of The Pops as one of his influences. He says that he realised: “If we believed fully in what we were about... that actually was far more important than how well you could play.” This may or may not be true but I think it is slightly disingenuous because all three were obsessive about playing their guitar, clearly they do care about how well they can play, and they all put an (unhealthy?) amount of time into learning to play. They describe taking their guitars everywhere: to school; to bed; and even to the toilet! So despite The Edge's statement, he can play very well indeed! And I must admit, The Edge's guitar skills were a revelation to me. I like U2 and probably own most of their albums but I've never particularly rated The Edge as a guitarist - I've considered him competent rather than outstanding. However, I think I've been unfair. He may not be a flashy, rock guitar solo kind of guy but he does what he does extremely effectively.

The section of the film that really challenged my assessment of The Edge took place a good bit into the proceedings when the three guitarists were jamming together on a version of In My Time Of Dying. They were all playing slide guitar and Jimmy was leading the way with a great Rock/Blues slide guitar sound. Jack states elsewhere in the film that he had wanted to dig deeper into music and" "...when you dig deeper in Rock n' Roll, you're on a freight train to the Blues." so he was clearly in familiar territory with this tune. He had a really dirty sounding Blues style and he was bouncing off Jimmy... and sounding awesome! In contrast, The Edge's guitar sounded lightweight and he appeared to be struggling to make a contribution. Then, all of a sudden, he played a lick that sounded like The Edge... then he did it again and went further still! He took what the other two were doing and rather than competing head to head, he added to the piece and transformed it. He didn't ride roughshod over the top and destroy what Jimmy and Jack were creating but instead he found a space where he could make a contribution and added something unique and special. Excellent and impressive.

So, not an outstanding documentary but some really interesting music. If you like rock music, if you like the blues, or if you just want to listen to three very talented guitarists doing what they do best, I strongly recommend that you track this film down. If you haven't seen it, what else can I do to convince to to check it out? If you've seen it, let me know what you think of it.


Isorski said...

I saw this in the theater and liked it a lot but agree it meandered a bit. I didn't know much about Jack White, so that was cool to see. Always neat to see Jimmy Page and I also learned a lot about Edge.

My initial review was a bit more glowing - dig that here -

David said...

I thought it was interesting that you started your review with a reference to The Song Remains The Same. I remember seeing it in the cinema as a young teenager and being blown away by it. I was especially impressed by seeing, not just hearing Jimmy do his stuff!