kind of summit: (l-r) White, Page and Edge in It
Might Get Loud.
Might Get Loud
by Davis Guggenheim
of the most disarming moments in 2009 cinema come courtesy
of a silver-haired, 65-year-old guitarist, a man better known
for wailing on his six-string with a violin bow than for his
emotive abilities. The first comes about halfway through It
Might Get Loud, the latest film from An Inconvenient
Truth director Davis Guggenheim. Jimmy Page, the legendary
Led Zeppelin ax-man, sets the needle down on an old 45 of
Link Wray’s speaker-cone-shredding classic “Rumble.” The smile
on Page’s face at the sound of those first mammoth guitar
chords is natural, unrehearsed, and beautiful. As the song
progresses, the dude who wrote “Stairway to Heaven” geeks
out: He laughs, begins to narrate Wray’s playing on the track,
eventually slipping into a bit of air guitar. For a moment
the camera is gone; Page becomes a teenager again, alone in
his bedroom, understanding the possibilities of rock &
roll for the very first time.
The second such moment comes when Page straps on a real guitar
and plays the jackhammer riff from “Whole Lotta Love.” This
time, the smiles are on the faces of his two audience members:
U2 guitarist The Edge, and White Stripes/Raconteurs man Jack
White. As Page fingers his way around the 40-year-old song,
his peers look on, beaming. Much in the same way Page himself
is transformed in that earlier scene, these two superstars
are suddenly on the other side of the barrier, staring up
adoringly at their guitar idol.
On paper, It Might Get Loud doesn’t make a lot of sense.
An Oscar-winning documentary director is going to put three
guitarists in a room and have them talk about their craft?
Who’s that even going to appeal to, besides other guitarists?
But Guggenheim finds little bits of magic in this seemingly
limited concept. Framed around an arranged meeting of the
three guitar greats, he builds a film that is marked by little
bits of discovery, both musical and historical. (Surely only
White fanatics were aware that he’d once cut a record under
the name The Upholsterers.) Scenes from that January 2008
summit are mixed with interview clips and archival footage.
There are videos of the skiffle-playing teenage Page (which
are freaking adorable); shots of the young U2 playing having
a grounding effect when inter-cut with the bloated spectacle
of their modern arena concerts. Even the footage of early-decade
White Stripes seems quaint—which was kind of their aim at
Each of the three subjects also returns to an important location
from their musical past . . . sort of. Page stands in the
room where John Bonham played the iconic drum track from “Where
the Levee Breaks” at England’s Headley Grange, the house in
East Hampshire where Led Zeppelin IV was recorded. The Edge
returns to the secondary school in Dublin where U2 formed,
pointing out the exact spot where he first spotted drummer
Larry Mullen Jr.’s advertisement seeking band members. White,
on the contrary, jams with a 9-year-old version of “himself”
in a dusty Midwestern cabin, in what seems to be an attempt
to build mystery around his character, or add color to the
White, indeed, seems the odd man out in this bunch, but it’s
his unusual persona that gives the film an edge (heh). Indeed,
he turns out to be an excellent raconteur (heh heh), and his
approach to the instrument (he plays battered, cheap guitars
because he wants a “battle”) contrasts nicely with Page’s
studied technique and that of “sonic architect” The Edge.
There are no revelations in It Might Get Loud. It’s
an uneven film for sure, with too much concentration on history.
Perhaps the summit footage is slighted because these three
gentlemen found little in common—their only real moment of
collaboration, a closing-credits slog through the Band’s “The
Weight” (which they play incorrectly), feels forced upon them.
But for fans of the performers and guitar lovers, especially,
will find themselves lost in the sound, much like Jimmy Page
in that one great scene.
by Sophie Barthes
Sophie Barthes’s debut feature will draw inevitable comparisons
to the Charlie Kaufman-penned, Spike Jonze-directed Being
John Malkovitch, (and to a lesser extent the Kaufman-helmed
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). The melancholic
humor and existential uncertainty of Cold Souls establish
a ground familiar to Kaufman fans; and the casting of Paul
Giamatti as an actor named Paul Giamatti, of course, brings
to mind Malkovitch’s titular role as himself. But for all
the superficial similarities, Cold Souls has a tone—and
therefore an impact—quite different from the frantically neurotic
work of Kaufman.
Giamatti plays Paul Giamatti, a successful New York actor
preparing for his performances in Chekhov’s play Uncle
Vanya. The emotional theatrical role, however, is taking
a heavy toll on him. He feels tortured, burdened, and when
his agent jokingly refers to a soul-storage service profiled
in a recent New Yorker magazine article, Paul—in a
kind of semi-credulous desperation—bites. In consultation
with facility’s blithely confident lead doctor (David Strathairn),
Paul decides to have his soul extracted and stashed in a Manhattan
storage area—he pays extra so as not to have his soul interred
in Jersey—just until the run of Vanya is complete.
Some of which are quite funny: The scenes of post-soul Paul
in rehearsal are hilarious. From earlier rehearsals we know
him to be a talented, fully committed actor; in his unburdened
state he is an altogether different artist. If you’ve ever
wondered how Shatner would do Chekhov, Cold Souls has
your answer. It’s a delightfully silly, well played bit.
But, funny as they are for the viewer, the consequences of
soulessness for Paul are dire: Obviously his career is at
stake. His relationship with his wife (an underused Emily
Watson), too, is rattled. Convinced now that he has made a
mistake, Paul decides to reverse the procedure. Unfortunately,
soul storage is new to the marketplace and, as such, largely
unregulated. It turns out that the practice depends greatly
on illicit soul trafficking from Russia. Due to less-than-perfect
security measures and the desire of a Russian trafficker’s
wife for an infusion of American celebrity, Paul’s soul ends
up in St. Petersburg. As a temporary measure, he takes on
the soul of a Russian playwright (containing more than enough
emotion there to complete the play), then heads off to retrieve
his own, with the assistance of a “mule,” a woman paid to
smuggle souls by carrying them within herself.
It all sounds a bit bonkers, and under another director—Kaufman,
say—it likely would have been. But Barthes is remarkably deft
and sure. The movie unfolds like a dream, its logic unquestionable
as it is unknowable. Barthes wisely avoids the temptation
to over explain the science of the process (Strathairn’s character,
in fact, ’fesses up that though they can extract and store
souls they don’t have any idea what the soul actually is);
and she steers clear of overt religious and/or philosophical
What is left is a subtly funny, quietly sad, highly ambiguous
visual poem about the mystery of personal identity.