It Might Get Loud

It Might Get LoudA few years ago director Davis Guggenheim set out to create a documentary about one of the most iconic instruments in music, and the driving force behind the entire rock and roll scene since its inception:  the guitar.  His way of doing so was to get the perspective of three musicians, each in some way the driving force behind a particular brand of rock music.  Jimmy Page, the guitarist from Led Zeppelin; The Edge, the genius behind the unique and experimental sound of worldwide rock sensation U2; and…Jack White from The White Stripes.  Guggenheim essentially films a conversation between the three men as they sit with their guitars in the middle of a warehouse, talking about their personal stories, influences, creative visions, and thoughts on the history of rock music.  It’s a daring concept to be sure, and one that is inherently fraught with musical controversy:  ask any guitarist to name their three heroes in the genre, and it’s doubtful Page, Edge, and White would all be mentioned in the same sentence.  The three are masters of their craft, but how many hundreds or thousands of brilliant, influential guitarists (Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Chuck Berry, Neil Young, Stevie Ray Vaughan, or modern virtuosos like Buckethead, John Petrucci, or even Mark Tremonti) were left off the list?  Why these three specifically?  The answer, it turns out, doesn’t really matter.  This isn’t a movie about the best, or most influential, or most popular, or most innovative, or hardest-shredding guitarists.  It’s just a movie about three dudes who are masters of their craft and offer their perspective–take it or leave it.

It Might Get Loud: Jack White, The Edge, Jimmy Page

Jack White, The Edge, and Jimmy Page. Two out of three ain't bad, I guess.

Beyond just filming a conversation, Guggenheim offers a much richer experience than just watching three dudes wax nostalgic about their geetars.  He offers glimpses into the creative processes each musician has gone though to lead them to where they are.  From Page’s humble beginnings as a studio musician and then playing backup for the Yardbirds, to the streets of Detroit where White, the youngest of 10 children, spent his days working in an upholstery shop and playing music with his boss in the evenings.  Even The Edge, who practically sleeps and bathes with a full set of pedals and FX boards, takes a trip back to the high school where he and his friends practiced music in their teacher’s classroom after the bell rang.

On some levels the movie succeeds quite well, and it’s fascinating to see how each of these men have taken the guitar and made it their own.  The most captivating is Page, who having achieved the pinnacle of rock and roll stardom, and been there/done that by any definition of the phrase, is just as enthusiastic as ever about the guitar.  Like watching a child utterly captivated by the simple pleasure of a rubber ball or toy car, Page jams away to classic Zeppelin tunes like Ramble On, exuding joy from every pore.  Watching him play air guitar as he listens to his early influences like Link Wray’s classic instrumental Rumble is the standalone highlight of the entire documentary, as his infectious affectation for the molasses-thick riffs practically oozes through the screen.

It Might Get Loud: Jimmy Page

Jimmy Page, rambling on with no regrets.

In stark contrast to Page and Edge, Jack White spends much of the film brooding over the sad state of over-produced music today, and strumming out harsh contrivances on old dusty guitars as if trying to make some kind of point about keeping the soul of music pure. It’s rare that he smiles, even when sitting inches away from Page and Edge, and watching him play the piano while encouraging his son (with whom he shares a scarily identical wardrobe of slacks, vest, and dour scowl) to simply bang on a guitar with his foot, as if the nonsensical rubbish were some kind of expression of musical purity, was actually a tad frightening.

Seeing the bombed-out haunts of Edge’s childhood in conflict-ravaged Dublin, the cavernous Headley Grange mansion where Zeppelin recorded IV, and the dirty streets of Detroit where the White family struggled to make ends meet is all very interesting, but the trouble is there’s just not much substance in the movie to go along with the powerful imagery.  It Might Get Loud seems like an extended trailer for what would make three very interesting biographies, and by merely touching on the primal elements from which some of the greatest tunes in recent history were born, it feels like so much more could have been explored that time just did not allow for.  It Might Get Loud is an interesting curiosity, though it lacks a true punch or even a real message.  So the guitar is a cool instrument–whether it’s a basic acoustic setup or a high-tech magical wand at a U2 show.  We already knew that.  And seeing these three men talk about it, while watching bits of their personal biographies, comes across like the impromptu jam session they find themselves in near the end:  curious but more than a little awkward.


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Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

Dr. HHave you ever found a movie sufficiently interesting that you watched the director’s commentary, hoping it would enhance your enjoyment of the film, only to waste two hours listening to pointless self-congratulations? Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog (Dir. Joss Whedon) has one of those few commentaries that I actually watched a second time – and just might watch a third. What makes the commentary so good is the same thing that makes the movie so good – the music. Dr. Horrible revives a dying art: musical theatre. Many genres of music are exhibited in the film, and in Commentary: the Musical.

Neil Patrick Harris of Doogie Howser fame stars as Dr. Horrible, an aspiring megalomaniac who is striving to be admitted into the Evil League or Evil (ruled by a horse – go figure), but is hampered by his aversion to murder. Meanwhile, he gazes longingly at Penny (Felicia Day), a girl he sees at the laundry mat (“I’m just a few weeks away from a real audible contact!”). As the script would have it, Dr. Horrible’s crucial heist of “wonderflonium” to fuel his freeze ray is the same occasion that Penny first talks to him. He succeeds in stealing the wonderflonium, but is nearly foiled, and badly beaten, by his nemesis, Captain Hammer (enthusiastically played with ample cheese by Nath3an Fillion). Captain Hammer is an unsympathetic super hero who fights crime mainly for the pleasure of beating up on mad scientists and taking advantage of groupies (“this is so nice, I just might sleep with the same girl twice!”). To add insult to injury, the chaos gives Hammer the chance to save Penny, and Dr. H. watches them fall for each other (right). Hammer’s bullying eventually pushes Dr. H. over the edge and leaves him willing to do what he must to get into the E.L.E. (Penny may cry, but her tears will dry when I hand her the keys to a shiny, new Australia.)

This film debuted in the summer of 2008, being broadcast over the internet. Whedon funded the project himself, at just over $200,000, and used his home as a studio. The production is a bit rough. One thing you’ll notice is that the actors wear little-to-no makeup, showing their blemishes to the world. Gutsy. Hammer’s “costume” is a T-shirt with an iron-on. The movie was blogged while in production, and the marketing was immediately taken over by Whedon’s internet-savvy fans. When the film was finally broadcast, the network almost crashed from the number of viewers.

I rented this one on Netflix and wound up watching it over and over, not so much for the movie as for the songs. At 43 minutes, the film doesn’t develop its story very well. Then again, that doesn’t stop people from loving The Phantom of the Opera. Much like Phantom, Dr. Horrible is more of a concept album with a moving picture in the background than a real movie. That said, also like Phantom, Dr. Horrible is worth watching just for the music. Harris in particular demonstrates some real voice talent. The lyrics have a depth to them that you don’t see in contemporary pop music, and keep coming up with different rhyming patterns. Almost every scene involves a well written and well performed musical number, my two favorites being the anguished “My Eyes” and the ominous “Brand New Day.”

As if that wasn’t enough, they added Commentary, in which they brought back virtually everyone who was involved in the movie to sing at least one song. Just about every type of music you can think of is covered, including a rag, jazz, and lounge singing. To top it all off, Marissa Tancharoen, co-writer and “groupie #1” sings a rant about how “no one’s Asian in the movies” (not sure where she gets that).

The DVD also includes videos of applications for E.L.E. membership that fans sent in. Each one has an original song. Be warned, some of them are what you’d expect from geeks filming in their living rooms. Some, however, are quite good, most notably an evil rabbi who pitches a plan to blow the tip off the Washington Monument, and a Catholic priest who has a disturbing take on Catholic theology in the form of a rap.

I have to say the writers really dropped the ball on Act III of the film, because the ending sucks. It’s the kind of ending that gives the impression that they meant to do more, but just ran out of time/money/steam. The idea seems to be that Dr. H. get everything he ever wanted, except that he inadvertently destroy the thing he wanted most. But it’s implausible to the point of not making sense. It tries to do in 5 minutes what would have taken about 50, and leaves the audience feeling like they’ve been plunged into nihilistic darkness for no reason.

The decision of what rating to give this film was a difficult one. It’s a bit too simplistic and unintentionally comical to be considered a true contribution to the world of cinema, which would justify a four-star rating. In fact, with an ending that falls flat on its face, I can’t even consider it a solidly good movie, which would merit three stars. On the other hand, it’s too well done and innovative to be passed off as just another piece of mindless entertainment (two stars). Hence, I have decided to give it

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