Friday, 14 January 2011

It Might Get Loud

Lowdown: Jimmy Page + The Edge + Jack White = electric guitar heaven.
Review:
If you were to ask me who my favorite musician of this millennium is, the answer would probably be The White Stripes' Jack White; Elephant is probably my favorite album of the decade that was.
The decade before that was probably U2's: I started listening to them during the eighties, but it was Achtung Baby that made me an addict. I remember buying the album at a Jerusalem record shop during a rare getaway from my army base shortly after the first Gulf War started. True, by now I developed a lot of contempt for U2, but that contempt is owing to them simply failing to realize they should have retired at their peak, some time during the mid nineties. That and Bono's stand on matters of copyright. Still, nothing can take their past achievements from them.
Before that? As far as I am concerned, what came before U2 was the age of the mighty. That time when the truly awesome rock musicians walked the earth: the likes of the Pink Floyds, the Creams and the Zeps. That era before sampling, hip-hop and the synth was probably the era where the electric guitar shone the most. Of the guitarists from that age of the titans, my personal favorite by a wide margin is Jimmy Page; when I think electric guitar it is he who is most often at the top of my mind.
Now imagine what you get when you combine the guitar talents of all the above decades/ages: Jack White, The Edge and Jimmy Page. Imagine what would happen if you were to get them all to a summit meeting. Now you can stop imagining, because that is exactly what It Might Get Loud - a 2008 documentary - does. We follow Page, White and Edge as they tell us about their roots, where they come from and what happened to take them to where they are now; and in between we catch glimpses of what took place when the three met face to face, armed only with their electric guitars and amps.
The previous paragraph's description might have made it sound bland, but It Might Get Loud is anything but. To say that the artists' stories about the beginning of their careers are interesting is quite an understatement. Jimmy Page's evolution at an age that was yet to know rock is a story about how those artists shaped rock to be what we now know it to be, and The Edge taking us through the school where U2 met and showing us the noticeboard on which Larry Mullen published a wanted ad for the musicians that would end up forming U2 is like watching history come to life. We also learn a bit about the technical achievements of our heroes here: most notable is the scene where Page shows us to the mansion where Led Zeppelin IV was recorded and explains how the drum sound on When the Levee Breaks (a personal favorite of mine) was achieved. That said, the main lesson I took from this part of the film is that you don't necessarily need to burst with talent to get to this trio's heights: you need the ambition and the perseverance. Life lessons such as these are hardly ever better delivered than in It Might Get Loud.
Then there is the summit meeting. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed there, but then again what could I expect? Did I really expect them all to burst into song together and come up with a spectacular new super group as we watch? Did I really expect The Edge and Jack White to just join Page as he plays my favorite Led Zeppelin songs? Silly me. Instead what we have is a glimpse at how people who are the top subject matter experts in their field exchange news and views as we learn how they themselves learn. Disappointed as I was, there are still pure gems in the summit, such as when the trio join Page through the riff from In My Time of Dying, one of my favorite Zeppelin songs.
It's interesting to note It Might Get Loud is clearly a case where the DVD experience is far superior to the cinematic one, mainly through its supplementals. The deleted scenes are not just outtakes: they feature a scene where Page teaches the other two how to play Kashmir and White teaches the other two how to play Seven Nation Army. If you're a guitar fan you'd have an orgasm watching those; if you're a music fan you'll just enjoy knowing more about a few of the best songs ever made.
Best scene: It Might Get Loud is rich with best scene material. After great deliberation my money goes to the scene where Page casually picks a guitar and strums the notes from Whole Lotta Love. You should have seen the face on Edge and White! They were exactly like mine...
Technical assessment: The director went for an artistic look here, so the picture is of very washed up and high contrast nature on purpose; do not expect much of your DVD player. The sound is mostly the result of the trio's guitar playing and some clips of their songs, so it does have its moments of shining.
Overall: I was in nirvana land, somewhere between 4.5 and 5 stars. More importantly, I can't stop thinking of what I saw; this documentary is so good it would make a corpse want to pick a guitar up.

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