Davis Guggenheim documents Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White in 'It Might Get Loud'

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By Steve Appleford, LA Times

Davis Guggenheim filmed Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White geeking out about the electric guitar.

Davis Guggenheim calls himself a "Behind the Music" junkie, watching every episode of the VH1 show chronicling famous rock stars' rise and fall and rise again amid triumph and self-destruction. He loves it, he says, but the Academy Award-winning director of "An Inconvenient Truth" had other ideas for his own documentary on the electric guitar.

In "It Might Get Loud," he focused on three masters of the instrument from different generations, each with a different style -- Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, U2's the Edge and the White Stripes' Jack White -- and there would be no talk of girlfriends or rehab or black magic, none of the sordid subjects that have fueled rock documentaries for decades.

"Let's rethink the music documentary," says Guggenheim, 46, who dabbles a bit on guitar himself. "They're either about car wrecks or drug overdoses, or they're about celebrity worship, big platitudes about how they changed American culture. We wanted to go deeper."

"It Might Get Loud," which premieres Friday at the Los Angeles Film Festival (ahead of an Aug. 14 release in Los Angeles and New York), reaches into the heart of inspiration and attitude, more about mood than biography. In the opening scene, White is at his farm outside Nashville as he nails together his version of a "diddley bow" from a plank of wood, Coke bottle and single guitar string. He plugs into a vintage amplifier for a moment of wild, twangy sound, and says, "Who says you need to buy a guitar?"

In London, Page riffs alone through "Ramble On" amid stacks of guitars, amps and travel cases, demonstrating his delicate use of "light and shade, whisper to the thunder." Scenes with the Edge in Ireland are particularly eye-opening, revealing the U2 guitarist as lighthearted but also deeply philosophical about his work, as he meticulously pieces together the song "Get on Your Boots."

At his offices in Santa Monica, Guggenheim is already halfway into work on a new documentary about public education, but there are remnants of "Loud" everywhere. On one editing room wall are color-coded cards representing scenes with each of the guitarists: green for the Edge, yellow for Page and red for White.

"We don't want to take it down because it was two years of our life," Guggenheim says with a smile.

It began as the idea of producer Thomas Tull, chairman of Legendary Pictures, the force behind such massive hits as "The Dark Knight" and "300." He is a collector of guitars and amplifiers and often gets together with friends to jam out some blues.

"It's my golf," Tull says. "It's a great source of joy for me."

He'd also noticed the popularity of video games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band, plus the continued public fascination with rock 'n' roll and the people behind it, despite ongoing troubles in the record industry.

"It was kind of personal," says Tull. "I just wanted to do something as a fan of the guitar and music. Why is there such a love affair with this instrument? What would I want to see that tried to get at the heart of that?"

"Loud" is his first documentary. He turned to his friend Guggenheim, who had just won the Oscar for his alarming climate-change film and quickly accepted the job to bring Tull's project to life.

The director constructed "It Might Get Loud" around a series of audio interviews with the guitarists -- an approach he learned during the making of "An Inconvenient Truth" with former Vice President Al Gore.

"When the film crew was there with all the lights, Al Gore would be different. It would be more formal," Guggenheim says. "The whole idea was how do we break through this facade and how do we become more intimate and more personal? When the film crew went away, I'd drive around the farm with him in his car and I'd get the greatest stuff."

Choosing three guitarists was the initial challenge. Page was the first to sign on, and is credited as associate producer. Guggenheim says he'd assumed the enigmatic classic rocker wouldn't do it, but after the director described his approach over tea in London, Page became an enthusiastic participant, providing the grinding, bluesy instrumental that unfurls over the opening credits.

"What we were trying to accomplish was not to make a list of the three greatest or the three this or that," Tull says. "It was really about bringing different eras, styles and personalities to bear . . . Davis deserves all the credit for the way he's able to bring out really great moments and highly personal things."

The high point of the production for Guggenheim was a two-day "summit" last year with the guitarists and their instruments on a Warner Bros. soundstage. Early on, as Page picked up a black Les Paul to demonstrate "Whole Lotta Love," Guggenheim noticed on one of his monitors that a camera was drifting off and out of focus.

"I realized the operator had forgotten to shoot and he was just watching," he says with a laugh. "The music was so loud and so incredible that he forgot what he was doing. A lot of us were just blown away."

Copyright 2009 Los Angeles Times

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on June 19, 2009 6:06 PM.

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