- The Washington Times - Friday, September 4, 2009

On the heels of his improbably successful staging of Al Gore’s campaign to combat climate change, “An Inconvenient Truth,” director Davis Guggenheim has tried with “It Might Get Loud” to capture heat of a different kind: that generated by the interaction of three rock-guitar gods — Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White.

What happens when you drop these very different personalities, who differ most obviously in age but also in terms of musical sensibility, into the same cinematic petri dish?

The answer, it turns out, is: Not much.

The least interesting moments of this unique piece of filmmaking are when Mr. Page, the Edge and Mr. White are physically together. They apparently know few songs in common and, like first-round boxers, seminervously dance around one another.

The Edge runs down the spartan riff of U2’s “I Will Follow,” and Mr. Page reacts with bemusement at the seemingly odd placement of a C note. Mr. Page, at 65 the silver-haired elder statesman of the group, demonstrates Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” The Edge and Mr. White grin like young boys who have been permitted by a rascally old uncle to drink alcohol for the first time. Mr. White introduces a bit of the White Stripes’ “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” but, alas, his lips move as often as his fingers.

Later, a spontaneous jam of sorts does occur, as Mr. Page leads his pupils through a rendition of Zep’s “In My Time of Dying.” By the final reel, they’re loose enough to try the Band’s “The Weight.” But the Edge fumbles with the chord progression, and, worse, the trio finds itself sorely lacking in the harmony department. “I’m afraid I can’t sing,” Mr. Page confesses.

So: If you’re expecting some kind of genius collaboration from “It Might Get Loud,” prepare to be as disappointed as I always am by the anticlimactic superjams at each year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.

The meat of this film is found not in its performance pieces, but in its miniature portraits of artists as young men, as it were. Considered from this vantage point, “It Might Get Loud” is both resonant and revelatory.

Here are three men who, aside from working in the same trade with the same tool, couldn’t resemble each other less. How did they discover their respective gifts and find the wherewithal to express them?

The movie follows Mr. Page and the Edge (born David Evans) as they stomp old haunts: the former in the famous Headley Grange poorhouse-turned-rehearsal-space where Zeppelin recorded its fourth LP, the latter in dodgy North Dublin, where U2 recorded in the mid-‘80s. Rather than take us back to his native Michigan, Mr. White instead allows us on the grounds of his rustic Nashville estate.

Mistrustful of the media, which ridiculed Led Zeppelin before lionizing it, Mr. Page thoughtfully and eloquently opens up about his quietly productive — and depressing — years as an anonymous session player for various artists at the height of the British Invasion. He could have made a handsome living recording for the likes of Muzak — whose anodyne product was, by its nature, meant to be ignored.

Frightened to his core by that prospect, he ran headlong into the company of the Yardbirds and later founded Led Zeppelin. With violin bows and newfangled distortion pedals, Mr. Page sought to expand on the raw tonality he first heard in Link Wray’s “Rumble”; he says he wanted to make noise that was “rude” — “that made your ears hurt.”

The Edge came of age in the 1970s in the shadow of the heavy-rock circus Mr. Page inadvertently helped create. U2 found inspiration from the simplicity and directness of punk-rock bands like the Ramones and the Jam. So what if Bono, the Edge and company couldn’t play their way out of a paper bag? Attitude and authenticity would carry the day.

As his chops improved, the Edge describes his increasing fascination with the harmonic possibilities of an electric-guitar signal run through delay pedals — the “off-to-the-side” notes, as he casually describes them, that would come to constitute his signature sound.

Jack White, who grew up working-class in a Latin-dominated section of Detroit, absorbed both of these legacies — his playing is equal parts Page and punk — and tweaked them with a postmodern self-awareness.

Mr. White divulges to Mr. Guggenheim in plain terms the origins of the White Stripes’ aesthetic (the color scheme, the claim that drummer Meg White is his sister, the eschewal of bass guitar). Wary of plying the same-old “white-boy blues,” Mr. White candidly says it’s all an attempt to distract audiences from “what we’re really doing — this,” and he points to a vinyl LP of blues legend Son House.

Mr. White half-seriously jokes that his goal in participating in the movie was to be able to rub elbows with the other two and thereby “learn their tricks.” We happy spectators learn more much than the tricks of Mr. Page, Mr. Evans and Mr. White; we learn their essences.

“It Might Get Loud,” the title, is ultimately kind of misleading: What they say is more compelling than what they play.

★★★

TITLE: “It Might Get Loud”

RATING: PG (brief profanity)

CREDITS: Directed by Davis Guggenheim. Produced by Peter Afterman, Lesley Chilcott, Mr. Guggenheim and Thomas Tull. Cinematography by Guillermo Navarro and Erich Roland. Edited by Greg Finton.

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes.

WEB SITE: www.itmightgetloud.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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