In the interest of full disclosure, not only am I a big fan of the much of the music by the film's three participants, Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White, all of whom have been contributors to the soundtrack of my life for countless hours, but of the guitar in general. Doesn't matter if it's the jazz of Django Rheindhart, the blues of B.B. King, or the rock of Jimi Hendrix, I am easily transfixed by anyone who demonstrates a talent for making the six string sing.
With that being stated, I wasn't sure what to make of director Davis Guggenheim's 'It Might Get Loud' when I first heard about it. A documentary about the men and their differing approaches sounded like it had potential, but two of the men normally play with lead singers, so words are not their forte. Plus, it could be too "inside baseball" as they throw around jargon and music theory unfamiliar to non-musicians.
All worries quickly disappeared because Guggenheim created a very engaging and endearing film. 'It Might Get Loud' is not just a fascinating biography on the men, which it is, and not just a compelling movie about the guitar, which it is, but it's an intriguing exploration of art and the way people approach the same tool differently. This could serve as a template for any three people who all work in the same field.
The film has two components. The men appear individually as their stories are told and interact collectively at a summit. Page (born 1944) grew up in London and like many of his peers (Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards) was influenced by early American blues and rock 'n' roll. After spending time as a session musician and playing in the Yardbirds, he founded Led Zeppelin. The Edge (born 1961) grew up in Dublin and although it doesn’t come through in his music with all the gadgets he uses, was affected by punk rock. He and three schoolmates formed U2. White (born 1975) also had a great affinity for early American blues, but at the time he was growing up in Detroit, it seemed his peers were into rap and hip hop and had no use for the guitar. At the time the film was shot, he was lead guitarist in two bands, The White Stripes and The Raconteurs.
At the summit, which occurred on January 28, 2008, titles state, "three musicians came together to discuss the electric guitar." The trio sits around swapping stories, sharing ideas, and trading licks. When Page shows them how to play "In My Time of Dying," there's no surprise the other two have such reverence for their elder; however, when White leads them in "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground," it is interesting that Page and the Edge exhibit the same amount of respect for White's creativity and an eagerness to learn his tricks. All in all, there is a palpable sense of mutual admiration shared between the men and their approaches throughout.
'It Might Get Loud' is presented in an AVC MPEG-4/1080p transfer, but the video quality is wildly inconsistent because of the documentary's source material. The footage from the modern-day HD cameras under controlled settings looks very good. Lines are sharp and depth is evident. Very fine and tiny textures are shown in individual rain droplets on cars and specks of dust as Page strums during opening credits. Colors, including fleshtones, are accurate, consistent, and have solid hues. Blacks are rich and there's separation when different elements are layered and nothing gets lost in shadows.
Other sources, especially the archival footage, leave a great deal to be desired, but are included for their historical significance rather than any visual aesthetic. Varying levels of film grain can be seen throughout and contrast gets lost. Artifacts appear to varying degrees, a major one in particular on a b&w photo of a young Page and his brother. Video from a recent U2 concert and a very early TV appearance both have their shares of flaws like macroblocking, but it's not all bad, as kinescopes of a young teenage Page on television in a skiffle band hold up well.
While the video quality of a guitar documentary has some leeway in what it can get away with, the audio has no room for error and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix delivers. The source is pristine and sounds so sweet coming through the system, ranging from the power of The Edge in concert with U2, barreling through the heavy, sequenced guitar effects on "Until The End Of The World" to Page's delicate mandolin picking on "The Battle of Evermore" outdoors one afternoon. When the three musicians are playing together, each instrument is distinct in the mix.
The dialogue and effects are front and center and are well balanced with the music. There is no need to adjust the volume, although there should be no 'might' about it. It needs to be listened to loud. The surround augments the guitars, and there's slight, occasional ambiance from audience members during concert footage and cows can be heard as White builds a diddley bow in the opening sequence. The subwoofer captures the bottom end and really shakes the foundation when John Bonham's thunderous drums play on "When The Levee Breaks".
Fans of any of these men will enjoy 'It Might Get Loud' and will likely get a better appreciation for their artistry as the curtain (or axe) is briefly pulled aside and they reveal the people behind the instrument. For others, all three are pleasant and personable on screen as they provide a window into their work that has entertained millions the world over for decades.