It Might Get Loud: Pump Up the Volume
Originally published in Guitar World, September 2009
Larger-than-life guitarists Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White make a big noise in It Might Get Loud, a documentary that explores the electric guitar through each man's music and experiences. Guitar World sits down with the trio for a high-level discussion.
Hollywood meetings don't get more direct than this: In February 2007, one week before that year’s Academy Awards ceremonies, filmmaker Davis Guggenheim was in the office of producer Thomas Tull, president and CEO of Legendary Pictures. Guggenheim was enjoying a bit of increased industry cred at that moment, having received a Best Documentary Film nomination for his direction of the 2006 Al Gore global-warming treatise An Inconvenient Truth.
Before Guggenheim could ask “How’s it going?” Tull launched into his one-sentence sell: “You’re going to win an Oscar next week, Davis, and I want this to be your next picture.”
And with that, Tull pointed to a Les Paul guitar hanging on his wall.
“It was one hell of a way to start a meeting,” Guggenheim says with a laugh, “but I have to admit, I was immediately hooked. Thomas proceeded to tell me how important guitars were to him—he probably loves music as much as movies—but that, in his opinion, nobody’s ever truly captured the beauty of the guitar on film.”
Tull, for his part, explains, “I told Davis, ‘You took a subject like global warming and you made people care. This should be easy for you.’ ”
“The thing is, no matter where you stand on the issue of global warming, facts are facts,” says Guggenheim (who, as Tull predicted, won the Oscar in his category). “But with music, and as it relates to the guitar specifically, we’re talking about art, poetry. It’s one thing to write a poem, but explaining why the poem is important, or getting inside the head of the poet and showing why he wrote it, what drove him to do it, what makes his poem different from others—that’s a tall order. But the more Thomas and I talked about doing a documentary of the guitar, the more I couldn’t resist its pull.”
Tull’s enticements included his production experience: Legendary Pictures was riding high on the success of the revamped Batman franchise. But Guggenheim was concerned momentarily when Tull announced that he had already cast the project—at least in his head. “I told Davis, ‘I don’t know how you feel, but in my mind we have to focus on three guitarists who bring to the guitar a point of view and have changed the way people hear the instrument in very profound ways.”
Guggenheim says, “I kind of braced myself. A producer casting a movie can sometimes be a tricky thing. But Thomas knows from where he speaks. When he said the names Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White, all I could say was, ‘I totally agree.’ If we could get that amazing trio of guitarists to sign on, I knew we were halfway home to making the movie we wanted to make.”
And what if Page, Edge and White said no? What then?
“Then we would’ve bagged the movie,” Guggenheim says. “This was the movie we wanted to make, and we were determined to do it right.”
The result is It Might Get Loud, a new documentary about the electric guitar as told from the point of view of Page, The Edge and White. Scheduled for an August 2009 release in New York and Los Angeles, the film explores the instrument through each man’s career and playing style.
Several months after his meeting with Tull, Guggenheim found himself filming Jimmy Page in the guitarist’s home just outside of London, as Page pulled records from his collection and played them. Guggenheim says, “There was one record in particular that just knocked us both out: a vinyl copy of Link Wray’s ‘Rumble.’ Immediately, he started changing right in front of me. He was entranced, transported back in time to when he was a teenager. And then this charming, little-kid smile spread across his face. It was beautiful!”
It was also a little surprising, especially when the famously guarded Zeppelin guitarist broke into an impromptu moment of unbridled air guitar.