Thursday, October 01, 2009

Film Review: It Might Get Loud
Directed by Davis Guggenheim
Starring Jack White, The Edge, Jimmy Page

The Premise:
Documentary filmmaker Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) directs guides three living legends of the electric guitar through their thought processes and memories of playing some of rock n' roll's most memorable tunes. It Might Get Loud certainly is not a film designed for popular consumption, but to those who are fans of Led Zeppelin, U2 or the White Stripes, the documentary is probably required reading.

It should never be said that Jack White sits still for very long. Since this film was shot in early 2008 White has released an album with a brand new band (the Dead Weather) while still keeping the Raconteurs active, recording the title track for James Bonds' latest, playing Elvis in John C. Reilly's Walk Hard, opening his own studio space in Nashville and having a second child. It Might Get Loud seems like it would be an easy afternoon in Jack's world.
Halfway through this film one can't help but wonder if this project didn't start out with another, more sinister design. During the introductory scenes Jack White admits to the camera that he's going to try and trick Jimmy Page and The Edge into giving up their secrets.

The film never adopts this device, however, and quickly slips into a more biographical examination of the three guitarists, following The Edge around Dublin, Jimmy Page back to the mansion where they recorded IV and Jack White through the backwoods of Tennessee in a vintage Pontiac. (I know, I know.) Therein lies the problem: while The Edge and Jimmy Page seem to show the camera around their personal lives with a certain degree of humility, Jack White seems to adopt a persona for the film, claiming he's continually "looking for the struggle" and telling a nine year-old version of himself to pick a fight with his plastic guitar.

After forty-five minutes of this meandering one can't help but wonder if this film started out with a far more colorful intention, one where Jack White is allowed to 'play' more and truly catch The Edge and Jimmy Page off guard. This version of reality is aborted, perhaps out of necessity or out of professional or personal courtesy to the other musicians involved. What we're left with is an interpretation of three legends of rock 'n roll, two of which are down-to-earth, creative minds who walk us through their processes, and one cartoon character full of self-importance, strutting a narrow line between art and mockery.

Interestingly, it is the portions of the film focusing on Jack White that make the film watchable. I scarcely think there are parts of The Edge or Jimmy Page's stories that were told for the first time in this film. In one sense it is White's comparative obscurity to the masses that make his story more interesting to tell. But when Guggenheim dutifully splits screen time between his other two subjects interest lags and the film feels more like a History Channel program.

While a must-see for the die hard fan, this film will probably collect a lot of dust before it's pulled off of Blockbuster's shelves. Too scattered to be a good documentary without any controversy or nuance, this is a film really for enthusiasts only. Zeppelin and U2 fans will have to choke back on a lot of White's pomposity, but that's the heart of rock n' roll after all.

Movie Grade: C

No comments: