The central premise of It Might Get Loud — the Davis Guggenheim documentary that puts Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White in the same room with a bunch of guitars and a camera rolling — is somehow both more and less than that idea. It's not just about those three men in that room; it's about how those men got to that room, how they went from listening to music that inspired them to making music that inspired others. And, at the same time, for all of the attendant rock legend mythmaking that's crammed into the room where Page, Edge and White gather, there's the essential bare-bones fact in the air that these guys are not there because they're lucky; they're there because they're good, and watching three men whose albums have sold millions and inspired millions simply play music is truly exciting.
Guggenheim directs cleanly and clearly. Yes, there's archival footage (a shot of the Edge's first band playing an early '80s TV show is a fairly hilarious moment-of-the-moment), but it never feels like Guggenheim is just making his movie out of previously existing material. And there's plenty of original material shot solely for this doc, but the original footage — even during the meeting of the minds, where the trio jam and interact — is fairly choice, whether it's Jimmy Page reflecting on the blues or White and the Edge breaking into huge smiles as Page tears through the familiar chugging intro of "Whole Lotta Love." And at the same time, the idea never feels too faked or forced.
And even while it would surely be a great pleasure to enjoy It Might Get Loud's guitar jam sessions solely for what they are, the fact is that these are not just three talented strangers who wandered in off the streets. Guggenheim talks to these men about their careers — the music that they listened to that made them want play, the way they learned to play, the way they play now and where it's taken them. And you realize, as it sneaks up on you between the songs and the spectacle, that you're not only getting a nice brisk primer on the five-decade course of pop music as it evolved and grew, but you're also watching a film about creativity and communication — how these men want to have it mean something when they play, and the different ways they set about trying to attain the same goal.
The sound is, as you'd hope, excellent; the shooting style of It Might Get Loud is also remarkably well presented; this is a film that knows when to go for a nice image or a sweet cut, but also knows that a variety of video elements from a remarkably numerous and very different number of sources have to be made into a whole film. The DVD extras are also well executed and quite nice — full commentary by Guggenheim and two producers, deleted scenes and the film's press conference from the Toronto International Film Festival.
But the extras would be meaningless if the film were not any good, and the film would not be any good if, on some level, we didn't like being with Page, Edge and White (we are, after all, in a room with just the three of them for a goodly part of the film). Page comes off as dazed and distant rock royalty who still knows how to do the things that earned him the crown; the Edge comes off as a slightly more self-effacing man than his band's superstardom would make you at first think; White is a canny, clever performer who knows he's incredibly lucky to be the third man in this equation. ("Essentially, I'm going to trick these guys into teaching me all of their tricks," he notes early on.) If you're not a fan of rock and roll, It Might Get Loud might not connect, but if you ever felt your heart beat a little faster as the needle spiraled down the groove of a record, it's a look at music-making that will make you remember why music matters.