When I woke up today and checked the schedule, I realized I could make it a seven film day if I really wanted to push it. I’m not sure how I’d find any time to write if I did that, though, so that’s not realistic. Still… that’s the sort of thing I find myself tempted by when I’m at a festival. I’m that optimistic.
I got a decent night’s sleep (let’s see how many times this week I say that) and then hauled myself out of bed by 7:30 or so. Quick shower, then out the door and across the parking lot to the press headquarters so I could put in my ticket requests for Sunday. Crossing my fingers on “I Love You, Philip Morris,” because if I don’t see it then, I’m not seeing it a Sundance at all.
The Temple Theater is a brand new venue for this year’s festival, and it’s on the same street as the Yarrow, but about five miles away, so it’s a haul by bus to make that 9:00 Am screening, the first screening ever held there. Glad I made the effort to get the ticket, though, because the place is packced, and I can’t imagine a better way to have started my day. WhenI first read about the film, I wasn’t surprised to read that Thomas Tull was the producer. Thomas is the head of Legendary Pictures, the financial powerhouse that’s made a pretty big splash over the last four or five years through their partnership with Warner Bros. You’ve seen the Legendary logo on both of the Nolan Batman films, Singer’s Superman, “300,” and of course on the upcoming “Watchmen.” I met Thomas a few years ago, and he’s the real deal, a fascinating blend of uber movie nerd and comic book freak and garage band guitarist and hedge fund big business wizard. Makes sense he’d want to make a movie about rock and roll, since I know he plays and he’s just as passionate about that as he is about business.
Even so, I’ll bet he didn’t know how great the end result would be. Davis Guggenheim, best known for “An Inconvenient Truth,” was the director approached by Thomas with a simple idea: make a movie about the guitar. Even Guggenheim must have been surprised by where that idea took him, though. Most good documentaries are as much a matter of alchemy as of filmmaking skill, and this is a case of the right ingredients combining in a way that’s just right.
Jack White. The Edge. Jimmy Page. Even if you don’t enjoy whatever it is that they do, you’ve got to acknowledge that all three of them are accomplished players who bring a recognizable voice to what it is that they do. Jack White, the youngest of the group, turns out to be a great subject for Guggenheim. He can’t contain himself, the class clown of the movie. At least, until he plays. Because with a guitar in his hand, this self-described “cartoon character” transforms into something older, sort of scary and powerful. And later in the film, when White plays the record “Grinnin’ In Your Face” by Son House, the way he talks about that record reveals a lot about what he’s trying to be when he plays. It’s the only moment in the film when he sits still, riveted by the music, his reverence for the track clear.
Much of the film is about where music comes from and how players fit into a history and a tradition, how music is almost a living thing, passed off from one player to the next. As the three guy all play records that inspired them, or as Guggenheim cuts in footage of vintage performances they discuss, we also see Jimmy Page’s early days in a skiffle band and as a session player and the schoolroom origins of U2 in Dublin and the upholstery mentorship of a tenth child that led to the White Stripes. And the point is, as it is for Son House or Fred Wray or any of the old bluesmen or for those skiffle players in the streets in Page’s childhood or some kid picking out chords on his Christmas present for the first time somewhere right now, that the player is a storyteller, and what he plays… and how he plays it… that’s his story.
All of that is why I think this is a great film, but the real attraction, the reason you should go see it, is something else, the special summit meeting between all three of them on a soundstage on the Warner lot in Burbank. There are a couple of comfortable spaces set up, like something out of a mid-’90s taping of “Unplugged,” and all three guys show up with an assortment of gear. And the three of them playing for each other and even spontaneously playing together… it’s magic. It’s a film of pure pleasure, and as several of us spilled out of the theater afterwards, trying to make our next screenings, I saw the same smile I felt on my face on the faces of those around me. Good stuff.
Before my next review, let’s take a quick look at the inbox…