A fan’s love letter to the art of the six-string, Davis Guggenheim’s documentary It Might Get Loud convenes a summit of guitar gods from three generations: Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, U2’s The Edge, and The White Stripes’ Jack White. The resulting jam session ought to be a music geek’s wet dream, but there isn’t enough common ground to produce more than a few flashes of inspiration.
Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) devotes the bulk of the film to individual profiles, which is where the interest lies. White, interviewed in his ramshackle barn in rural Tennessee, preaches the neo-primitivist gospel of creative struggle, and bemoans the “disease” of “ease of use.” Tucked into a corner of a rickety attic that looks as if it might collapse at any second, he bangs out ideas on a beat-up guitar, capturing them with a vintage microphone and an old reel-to-reel deck. Even a guitar is a luxury, as he proves by constructing an electrified diddly-bow on his front porch out of wire, nails, and a glass soda bottle. Page takes Guggenheim on a tour of Headley Grange, the East Hampshire mansion where parts of several Zeppelin albums were recorded, and thrills to an old 45 of Link Wray’s “Rumble,” but he never gets beyond well-worn war stories, unwilling to put a dent in his rock-star mystique. The Edge, by contrast, is happy to let the cameras peek behind the curtain. After demonstrating the distorted wah-wah riff behind U2’s “Elevation,” he repeats it stripped of effects—an almost embarrassingly simple two-chord pattern that a beginning guitar student could master in an afternoon. But as he shows off the almost infinite permutations of pedals, effects boxes, and computer effects he uses to generate new sounds, his reputation as a sonic innovator is once more secured.
Throughout the film, Guggenheim teases bits of the climactic tête-à-tête-à-tête, building expectations that are perhaps inevitably left unfulfilled. It’s amicable enough, but there’s no sense of genuine chemistry; these three aren’t likely to get together to jam on weekends. Like the movie itself, their convocation is amicable but uninspired, placing their talents side by side but never synthesizing them into something new.