It Might Get Loud
Directed by Davis Guggenheim
“It Might Get Loud” is a fascinating and informative documentary about the electric guitar and its use, as exemplified by three proponents of the instrument: Jimmy Page (The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2), and Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs). It’s both an entertaining and educational experience and one that I would recommend to both the knowledgeable and the unknowledgeable alike. I was somewhat concerned going in that I wouldn’t appreciate the material, as someone who enjoys music but who certainly isn’t an expert in anything musical, and who has picked up a guitar but who has put it down again, quickly, without anything remotely productive happening in between.
The film works on multiple levels, with discussions of music, the instrument and its development, and in showing us three men who have found a passion and made their living from it in ways that most of us can only imagine. It takes the time to show us each of their backgrounds and how they came to their art. They are an interesting threesome for the project, coming from three distinct musical generations at 65, 48, and 34 years old respectively, but with a shared experience.
Jimmy Page’s first guiter was left in a house his family moved into. He formed a skiffle band in school and made an early living as a prolific session guitarist (including work with major bands and musicians) until he realized that, at its worst, he was recording muzak. He embarked on his storied creative career with The Yardbirds and then Led Zeppelin, co-writing such anthems as “Stairway to Heaven” – a song that is discussed specifically because of the custom Gibson EDS-1275 doublenecked guitar that he needed to be able to perform it on stage (going from 6-string to 12-string parts without interruption).
The Edge is a great proponent of additional equipment in support of the guitar itself. Surrounded by banks of special effects equipment and enough pedals to make a church organist blush, he can take a relatively simple guitar riff and turn it into a wall of sound that belies its humble origins. But he also appreciates simplicity in the form, having developed an approach to playing chords that reduces the complication and the number of actual notes being played. The connection was here for me, to my pleasant surprise, as we are of similar age and he references the same high school musical influences.
By comparison, Jack White might be thought of as a relative minimalist. The youngest of ten children, he describes growing up in a small bedroom with two drumkits and a huge guitar amplifier, but no bed. However his favorite song, that he shares in the film, is a blues track that has no instrumentation at all and his own playing is accomplished but simple in comparison to the other two. The film opens with White making a simple electric instrument from a piece of wood, a coke bottle and a single string. Later in the film, in the space of a few minutes, he writes, performs, and records “Fly Farm Blues” which has since been released as his first solo single.
The passion in these musicians is perhaps best demonstrated as the film winds down and they walk off the carefully designed set and immediately reach for guitars and share notes on a song, resulting in a joint performance that seems like an after-thought, but is well worth waiting for. I left with a greater appreciation of both the music and the three musicians. (Opens September 11th)
Directed by Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor
From the writer/director team behind the “Crank” movies (the first of which is refreshingly different and amusing, the second of which isn’t), “Gamer” is not a very good movie, but it does have an intriguing premise with a sadly realistic back-story.
Set in the not too distant future, a tech-guru has taken nano-technology originally created for the army that allows for motor control of another person’s body. He first creates a SIMS-like environment, but with real people volunteering (and being paid) to be the characters in the game, with gamers controlling them online. It’s a bawdy environment of fashion and sexual excess.
The sequel is another game of control, using convicted felons in a first-person shooter video game setting, again with gamers controlling their actions. The context is that the prison system has gone bankrupt and the gaming company has taken over the finances, using convicts who choose to participate in exchange for a chance at freedom. But these are live fire situations, with people being killed left and right. The argument is that none of this is murder because participation is all voluntary.
There’s more to the story than just the setting, none of which is very compelling or especially worthwhile, and I wouldn’t recommend it. However, there’s probably an interesting conversation to be had about the ethics of gaming environments where one person controls another person’s actions, with or without killing. “Gamer” shows us a world in which social interaction and mass killing have been reduced to an inter-active peep-show. It’s not entirely unbelievable.