In the ingenious opening scene of Davis Guggenheim's documentary It Might Get Loud, Jack White McGyvers a makeshift guitar, using a chunk of wood, a Coke bottle, and an electric pick-up ("Who says you need to buy a guitar?" he muses). It's a fine party trick, but it also sets the appropriate tone for Guggenehim's doc, which is simultaneously reverential and irreverent, taking the art of rocking out with the appropriate degree of seriousness (which is to say, some, but not too much).
The film is built around a filmed meeting on January 28, 2008, during which "three musicians came together to discuss the electric guitar." Those three were Led Zeppelin's guitar god Jimmy Page, U2's brilliant lead guitarist The Edge, and White Stripes/Raconteurs frontman White (who confesses, on the way, that he plans "to trick these guys into teaching me all of their tricks").
That meeting forms a through-line and jump-off point for the film, but less screen time is spent at it than you might think; much of the picture is spent on the three guitarists' individual biographies and current working methods. Page takes the cameras to the house where Led Zep recorded their immortal fourth album, while Edge visits the secondary school where he and his mates met and first rehearsed and performed (he even finds the bulletin board where Larry Mullen posted the note that assembled the group). White is seen traveling and hanging out with a nine-year-old version of himself (it's a bizarre contrivance that somehow plays; don't ask me how). All three discuss and play recordings of the music that inspired (and continues to inspire) them; Page's sheer joy of listening to Link Wray's "Rumble" is only eclipsed by White's emotional (yet eloquent) response to the Son House's "Grinnin' In Your Face".
An Inconvenient Truth director Guggenehim and editor Greg Finton jazzily hopscotch between the three biographies--all have great stories to tell, and the archival footage is priceless. U2 fans will eat up the vintage TV clip of the band; they seem impossibly young, though they look like old bluesmen when compared to Page's first TV appearance as a kid skiffle player. There are aural treats as well, particularly a scene where Edge plays some old four-track recordings from the Joshua Tree sessions.
That scene made this particular U2 fan just about pee his pants. However, if there's one flaw to be found in It Might Get Loud, it's that fandom might be a requirement; I love all three of these guys and have their bands on permanent iPod rotation, so for me, every anecdote was fascinating, every performance exciting. But more casual observers might find the film uninteresting, even dull. Then again, I don't have much use for anyone who doesn't like at least a couple of these guys.
The summit of the great guitarists provides some wonderful, if controversy-free, footage. There are some clear philosophical differences between the three men, occasionally highlighted by the editing; Edge's explanation of his love for effects units is seen as a direct contrast to White's disdain for technology, while Edge's list of the excesses of the rock era that preceded his includes a couple of items (like 15-minute solos) that Zep certainly indulged in. None of that comes up in the round-robin, which is basically a mutal-admiration society, but that's fine; White is surely only kidding at the beginning of the film, when he predicts that the meeting will result in "a fistfight."
THE BLU-RAY DISC:
The 50GB Blu-ray disc serves up a very satisfying, MPEG-4 AVC-encoded 1.78:1 image (framed from the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio). It's a touch grainy in spots, but that gives the picture a nice texture, and certainly in seems in line with the film's gritty, down-and-dirty tone. The studio-shot scenes of the trio talking and playing look fantastic, rich and nicely dimensional. Black levels are full, saturation is solid, and the detail work is stunning--when Guggenheim goes in tight for those guitar close-ups, you feel like you can reach into the screen and touch it yourself. Quality shifts wildly between the disparate archival elements, but there's not much that can be done with them (and their historical value certainly trumps any aesthetic concerns).
The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is just outstanding--and it had better be, considering the subject matter. The various recorded and live music cues are vibrant and alive, blaring from all channels but never overpowering the center-channel interviews and voice-overs. Quiet solo performances are tight and intimate, while clips from large events (like the U2 concert footage) are big, full, and immersive--nice separation, plenty of action in the LFE channel.
Spanish 5.1 and Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA mixes are also available, as are English, English SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic subtitles. English, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles are also offered for the commentary track.
Director Davis Guggenheim and producers Thomas Tull and Lesley Chilcott contribute an Audio Commentary track, which is enthusiastic and fairly informative. It's a little dry, sure, but the three filmmakers chat eloquently (and often with great humor) about their little passion project.
Eleven Deleted Scenes (26:06) are also included. A couple are throwaways (one even includes false start camera moves), but several are can't miss--Page playing "Kashmir" and discussing the iconic tune with Edge and White, the trio teaming up for White's "Seven Nation Army," Edge playing "Stairway to Heaven" and explaining he and Bono's nicknames, White chopping through "I Fought Piranhas," and Edge's soundcheck, as he clicks through his effects unit and plays shortened versions of several U2 songs (including my favorite, "Until the End of the World").
Next up is the "Toronto Film Festival Press Conference" (38:36), featuring Guggenheim, Tull Chilcott, and the three stars. Shot in HD (with an irritating chyron on the lower third of the screen throughout its entirety), it looks great and contains some good background. Admittedly, some of it is repetition from the audio commentary, but the presser is worth a look to hear from the trio of guitarists.
The snazzy original Theatrical Trailer (2:26) is also included, as are Previews for several other Sony releases, including Soul Power, An Education, Persepolis, Every Little Step, By The People: The Election of Barack Obama, and Michael Jackson's This Is It.
The disc's BD-Live functionality enables the viewer to watch the film with "MovieIQ" and "the 'Loud Playlist"--basically, a trivia window option that also lets you bookmark songs used in the film, and email to them to yourself (or share them on Facebook! Because then you would... um...). It also connects to the usual assortment of additional trailers and promo materials.
Observing the trio playing, listening, and talking shop, we reflect that it's rare to observe this kind of powwow between skilled artists and craftsmen. Watching the three men jangling away at the power opening of U2's early single "I Will Follow" is a joy; and seeing them collaborate on Led Zeppelin's "In My Time of My Dying" and the White Stripes track "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" is downright thrilling. But perhaps the highlight of those scenes is the look on White and Edge's faces as they watch Page play the signature riff from "Whole Lotta Love." In that scene, and in the finest moments of Guggenheim's documentary, we are reminded that true musicianship is not just about playing music, but hearing it and understanding it and, above all, adoring it; it is only then that, as White says, you can become a member of "that family of storytellers." It Might Get Loud is a love letter to that family, and from it.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.