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Interesting but Somewhat Disappointing
on September 19, 2010
For someone who has long loved guitars and classic rock, few documentary premises have intrigued me more than It Might Get Loud's - filming three generations of famous guitarists spontaneously chatting/jamming and interspersing their personal stories. Unfortunately, execution does not live up to promise. For starters, many may quibble with the guitarists - Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White -, but they essentially exemplify their generations and have a nice rapport. I would have of course loved to see other favorites included, and it would have been nice to see a pre-Page player, but the choices are hard to fault. The fact that they have very different styles is certainly a plus. I am a major, long-time Page fan and a minor Edge fan, so I was mostly excited on their part. They of course need no introduction; the mere fact that they are here makes it worth watching for fans. I had very little previous exposure to White, and what I knew - the most popular White Stripes singles - left me rather unimpressed. However, this gave me newfound respect for him. I still dislike his vocals and lyrics, but he truly deserves to be in the film not only because he is a noticeably talented guitarist but also because he has great knowledge of and respect for tradition. In addition, he is very humble and clearly grateful to be around the veterans, even if his reserve seems a bit studied and his traditionalism somewhat self-conscious. As for those who still doubt, it is after all very hard to think of another qualifying popular player from the 2000s.
How much one likes the movie depends on expectations. I hoped the majority of it would be the guitarists talking and jamming, but this is far from true. Opening sequences create suspense about their meeting, with each wondering what will happen, but the meeting is a pathetic anticlimax; there is no excitement and hardly even a meeting scene at all. The interactions are undoubtedly absorbing, especially the players' interest in each other's work and the younger guitarists clearly being in awe of Page. However, the interaction is disappointingly low-key; there is almost no fire or magic. Many have mentioned the pivotal scene where The Edge and White watch Page play "Whole Lotta Love" like awe-stricken schoolboys, and the film is indeed almost worth watching for it alone, but it is the only such moment. The paucity of their playing together is particularly annoying; not even one full song is shown, and many are cut off far too early. These could have at least been given as extras, but that is sadly not the case. Segments of the individual players describing their techniques are more revealing, especially The Edge's.
Viewers wanting other performance footage will also be disappointed, though this does not pretend to be a concert film. The archival footage will be familiar to fans but is generally used well, while footage of the individual musicians is among the highlights. Page fans will be especially thrilled to hear - and in one case see - the master play two new songs.
The real problem is that, since only hard-cores will watch this, the documentary footage taking up such a large part of the film has little or nothing that viewers will not already know. I say this as a Page fan; the case may be otherwise for Edge/White fans, but I doubt it. Director Davis Guggenheim points out in an interview that it is interesting to see the guitarists tell their own story, but the lack of real insights is still highly detrimental. Even so, there are a few charming scenes, notably Page smiling like a star struck teenager and playing air guitar to Link Wray's "Rumble."
Some miscellaneous points remain. The sound is strong throughout, which is of course key, and the cinematography is generally good, but many editing decisions are highly questionable. For example, a short perusal of deleted scenes - especially Page demonstrating "Kashmir" - shows that they are often better than much of what is used. Written or spoken narration would also have been very useful. Lack of a plot is inherent to the film and basically an asset - at least in theory -, but the way the movie jumps from one guitarist to the other without transitions or any real plan is sometimes confusing. Certain things that are unclear to non-hard-cores - e.g., the significance of the White Stripes playing in an old-fashioned hall to an audience of stuck-up, older men and The Edge's reference to a letter that led to U2's formation - would also have been cleared up. As for the animation, some may question it, but I found it mostly effective and notably funny. In contrast, the "young Jack" gag quickly grows old and has no redeeming worth.
All told, fans of the guitarists must of course watch this, as perhaps should the guitar-obsessed generally, but it is not strong enough to attract others.