There are plenty of rock and roll documentaries dealing with the sex and drugs aspect, but precious few when it comes to focusing solely on the music. Or so “It Might Get Loud” producer Thomas Tull believed. Hence the idea of documenting how three electric guitar virtuosos-Jimmy Page, Jack White and The Edge– create their magic was born.
“We wanted to make a film about electronic guitar,” said director Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”), at a press conference in Los Angeles for the film, which opens Aug. 14 in select cities. “A lot of music movies felt lacking. They were about everything other than the music experience. They were about car crashes and overdoses. We were trying to get underneath. What if we made a movie about something no one described?”
The movie features each of the musicians in his home town discussing how they developed their style. “We’re all self-taught,” noted Page. “We’re not part of an orchestra. All guitarists have a different character.”
For White, growing up in a lower class, ethnically-mixed Detroit neighborhood provided a musical education the likes of which he could have never otherwise received. “You absorb so much of whatever your environment is,” he said. “I got so much from Mariachi or Tejano or Banda music playing all around me.”
The Edge was not at the press event.
In addition to the individual segments, all three artists came together for two days on a soundstage to jam (which the movie is woefully light on—my review is coming later this week) and talk shop; those scenes create the nexus of the movie. “We had to take out the fist fight to get a PG rating,” Guggenheim joked. Guggenheim conducted extensive, sit-down interviews with all three musicians to start the process. Those interviews were audio only, but prepped Guggenheim greatly for when he traveled to Dublin, London and Nashville with a film crew to capture each guitarist on camera.
The director also gave the trio a wide berth when it came to their individual segments. For example, White’s concept of teaching his 8-year-old self to play in the film was his idea. “The ideas flew around. Davis left so much leeway into what we do,” White said. “If he’d said, ‘here’s a script,’ I wouldn’t have done that.”
When asked why he picked Page, White and the Edge, Guggenheim deferred how that decision was made, but simply said, “You could make another film tomorrow with three people who inspire you. You could pick three people who are virtuosos. I wanted people who were searchers.”
White lamented that such folks were a dying breed. Kids today are bombarded with so much media, they are on sensory overload. “This film is to let people dig deeper.” He also expressed dismay that the days of simply discovering music the way he did-by throwing a record on the turntable– were gone. When someone asked him about “Guitar Hero,” he said, “I gave up trying to understand that. I do know it’s depressing to have a label tell you this is how kids are discovering music. That you have to put it in a video game. That’s sad.”
In response to what they were listening to now, White said he was listening to Mildred & the Mice, a band just released on his Third Man label (and some speculate a cover for his wife Karen Elson) but noted that he can’t listen to music when he’s composing, “for fear I’ll copy it.” Page, perhaps as he has for the last six decades, said he was listening to “a lot of rockabilly.”
Will the two work together again? The pair evaded the question (as they did many of the inquiries), but White managed to crack up the press corps by answering, “I think Jimmy needs to practice a little more.”
“It Might Get Loud” opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.