Thursday, September 24, 2009

Finger walking with the ghosts

Rock's greatest vets bound by frets

Posted on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 at 4:00 AM

It Might Get Loud
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Rated: PG
Cast: The Edge , Jack White, Jimmy Page
Director: Davis Guggenheim
WorkNameSort: It Might Get Loud
Our Rating: 4.00

From the opening seconds of It Might Get Loud, director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) makes clear the reason he selected Jack White (the White Stripes, the Raconteurs) as the centerpiece of his new documentary about the power and romance of the guitar: Pounding away at a makeshift creation with a hammer, nails and an empty glass Coke bottle, White fashions an electric slide guitar and utters matter-of-factly, 'Who needs to buy a guitar?â?�

I've always admired White more as a concept ' a poor boy from Detroit meshing classic rock-god affectations with the soul of a bluesman ' than as an actual performer. Here, however, he becomes something more rare: a fully formed cinematic hero. Surrounded by cows and an identically dressed student known only as 'Jack White: age 9,â?� the frontman pounds on a ragtime piano, tells of a childhood spent converting his bedroom into a practice space and teen years as an apprentice for a mattress man, then puts Cheshire Cat grins on the faces of his forebears Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) and the Edge (U2) by serenading them with Son House. It's a showstopping performance in which a lifetime of accumulated guitar-head parlor tricks are brought to bear.

Only slightly less enthralling is the Edge, who could have stuck out as the black sheep. If Guggenheim's mission was to pick a representative from rock's swaggering '70s, arena-rock '80s and back-to-basics present, he chose solidly on all but the second era. Considering that Some Kind of Monster already made clear Kirk Hammett's passive nature, the Edge might have been the next logical choice, but his name doesn't immediately scream 'shredder.â?�

He proves his worth, however, as a good moderator between the outgoing White and the reserved and proper Page. His visits to old haunts around Dublin are worth following, even if he doesn't exactly open up about his technique, other than a scene where he takes all the pedals and effects off his opening chords for 'Evolutionâ?� to reveal a hilariously basic single-strum variation.

It's Page who remains too stuffy for the experiment. Early footage of his days as a session musician is a riot, but in the present he seems to have taken his statesman role too seriously. He comes off as bemused by his disciples rather than invigorated.

The three come together for a jam session, and while that's the basic premise of the doc, Guggenheim falls short of capturing musical alchemy. Too often it seems more like an awkward playdate for purse-toting husbands than an actual meeting of the minds. They sync up for a section or two, but then quickly get back to sharing their favorite records. If Guggenheim had let it play as is, without splicing in choppy life-story filler, then it might have been a rock doc for the ages.


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