— by JOEL CRARY —
“It Might Get Loud” is the best superhero movie since “The Dark Knight.” It’s like a crossover issue that provides all but the expected big battle for supremacy. Jack White ponders what will happen when he gets together with guitarist icons Jimmy Page and The Edge. “Probably a fist fight,” he cracks sardonically. Not so much, but the resulting dynamic is a fascinating one, with each man coming from a different background in training and artistic philosophy. It’s a comic book film that’s mostly back story.
There is White, who as the film opens is building a makeshift guitar out of loose electronics, a board, a Coke bottle and some nails. He plugs it into an amplifier and it works. White approaches music as though he were born in a junkyard and had to adapt to the world through the use of spare parts. “It wasn’t cool to want to play an instrument” where he grew up in Detroit, he observes. White procured his first guitar as payment for helping a friend move a refrigerator. Working at an upholstery shop, he formed a makeshift band with his boss.
Meanwhile, in another galaxy, The Edge sits hunkered over a immense rack of effects boxes and a laptop, searching for the right series of closed circuits that will make his strings sound like an angel’s harp. He takes filmmaker Davis Guggenheim on a tour of the school where U2 got its start, all thanks to a poster Larry Mullen Jr. had put up on a notice board: “If Larry hadn’t put that poster up, I would have ended up in some other band.” He talks about seeing The Jam on Top of the Pops, identifying it as the moment when everything changed.
Overhead, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and the Yardbirds looks down and decides to join these potential usurpers to his heavenly throne, descending the staircase to talk shop. Old photographs and footage of Page playing skiffle and serving as a session musician (he played guitar on “Goldfinger”) are shown, and it’s easy to see the kid in Page still shining through his eyes and smile. He puts on old vinyls, playing air guitar and laughing at the enduring quality of the vibrato in Link Ray’s “Rumble.”
White is the somewhat cocky youngster, the cynic who bred himself on the blues and took a shine toward the anger of the punk rock movement. “Technology is a destroyer of honesty and truth,” he relates, calling “ease of use” a disease that the artist must fight. Cut to The Edge as tries agonizingly to use technology to achieve something that’s never been heard before, negating his own assertion time and again that the possibilities of the guitar have been maxed out. Then there’s Page, touring through the house where “When the Levee Breaks” was recorded, recounting how John Bonham’s drums were given their ambiance by the structure, bouncing perfectly off surfaces into the microphones suspended from the upstairs banister.
Page observes that the voice of the guitarist can be heard in his technique, and as the men enter their inevitable jam session, it becomes apparent how accurate he is. Each man contributes, shares a tiny bit of insight, and then takes their part off into their own unique direction, turning the song into a multitude of voices spoken simultaneously from separate mindsets. One man never discounts the other, but takes part in a collective expression of mutual respect. The look of pure joy on White’s face as Page plays his signature material speaks volumes about how the guitarist is fueled by aspiration and betterment of his own technique.
“It Might Get Loud” should appeal to all music fans. It resists the urge to become overly technical, relying instead on the journey these men have taken while trying to pin down exactly what motivates them as artists. I think I identified most with the approach of The Edge, who slaves to create the sound above all, treating the guitar as a conduit rather than a beast to be conquered. I enjoyed Page’s good humour, modesty and unadulterated love for making music.
And I connected with White’s sincerity and drive to challenge himself. He plays his favourite song, a vocal recording of “Grinning in your Face” by Son House, a gorgeous, raw example of blues songwriting featuring out-of-time hand claps without a guitar to be heard. As White gushes about the simplicity of the production, it’s easy to see what he’s getting at. There is a passion in of all of these men to create the perfect resonance, the perfect progression, the musical story of the sufferers of war, hunger, hardship, jealousy and betrayal — the sound of the human soul.
Follow Joel Crary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joelcrary.