It has been said that someone controls electric guitar. This is clearly true, as electric guitar is incapable of controlling itself. In the subjunctively titled It Might Get Loud, three controllers of the electric guitar meet up in a big room to stare at each other and learn about musicianship and what kind of hat to wear and how to love.
Those three are Jack White of the White Stripes and the Raconteurs; The Edge of U2; and Jimmy Page of Carter-Lewis and the Southerners, Mickey Finn and the Blue Men, The Honeydrippers, and probably a couple of other bands. In the movie, they each talk about their musical lives and then trade some licks. Mostly, though, the film is about each of them individually, sort of a 3-in-1 documentary about three very different guitarists.
Jack White is, surprisingly, the most pretentious of the three. His 1890s country-gentlemen outfits and old-timey posturing are tremendously affected, but still entertaining.
The Edge is so introverted, and—at least in the film—his guitar-playing is so narrow, and his focus is so on the pedals and effects, that he seems vaguely autistic. Still, it's amusing watching old film of him dressed up in an early '80s shiny-white shoulder-padded jacket with product-filled hair as he bangs out new wave.
By far, the most likable is Jimmy Page. His ceaseless, close-lipped smile and obvious joy in the music set him apart. Jack White loves the blues, and everything he does is aimed at capturing the blues spirit. The Edge hated the pop music that was around in his youth, and describes his musical direction in negative terms: getting away from heavy metal, eschewing long solos, disdain for light pop, scorn for humor and levity and cuteness. But Page simply loves music. "I have a voracious appetite for everything," he says, "all of it."
The Edge, conversely, says that when he and U2 started, he "had a clear idea of what we did not want to sound like." When Jimmy Page puts Link Wray on the turntable, he and Jack White smile and groove; The Edge just seems pissed off. Where Page and White love the history of music, The Edge seems vaguely uncomfortable with it. He talks about the early days of punk and how that influenced him (which seems odd, since U2 couldn't sound less like The Buzzcocks or Sex Pistols). Now that those days are history, Edge seems unsure of what to do about it.
Edge's evocation of the punk spirit occasionally becomes accidentally comic, as when he says, "I wept at Spinal Tap," because it captured everything he hated about the music scene of his youth, "bands that looked down on their fans," "self-indulgence" and the rock-god attitude. So it's no wonder he seems a little uptight when he meets Jimmy Page, who was the ax-wielding war god of the Edge's enemy cult.
White's attitude is even more louche: He claims he's going to see Page and Edge so he can steal their moves. Still, even in his mannered way, White has a sense of self-parody. One of the best sequences of the film has him driving a 1950s General Motors car with a 9-year-old dressed exactly like him in the back seat. The 9-year-old, according to the onscreen caption, is the young Jack White, somehow teleported into the future (or maybe the older White has been teleported into the past) to learn the secrets of electric guitar from his coming self.
While The Edge hates and White poses, Page just revels in music. His face continually lights up as he spins old discs; his 64-year-old body slides into recurring boogie mode; and he shakes and grooves with his guitar like he was still the lean young man in Led Zeppelin. Most importantly, though, is this intense aura of love that he radiates. He seems genuinely glad to meet the other guitarists, more than willing to share with them and completely humble in learning from them.
When they all jam together at the end, it's Page who asks questions of the others on proper technique, even though he's shown himself to be the superior technician. While White gets an awesome rumble on his ratty equipment, and Edge fine-tunes the effects box to nanometer-level tolerance, Page can make sudden dynamic shifts, whip out intricate licks and switch from guitar to bass to mandolin with the nonchalance of a musical Zen master.
I walked into It Might Get Loud a fan of the White Stripes, but I walked out amazed by Page. My friend Soyeon told me she had no interest in electric guitar, so I took her to the film as a test subject. Afterward, she said that she really liked it and that she wanted to hug Jimmy Page. I could see that. I think the whole world would be a better place if we all got hugged by Jimmy Page.