On its face, "It Might Get Loud" is just an old-fashioned super-session. The concept is to bring in three vastly different guitar players -- Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, U2's The Edge and Jack White from the White Stripes -- turn on the cameras and let it fly.
Deeper down, however, director Davis Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth") is going for something far more ambitious. In telling the stories of three men and the guitars they love, "It Might Get Loud" is in search of a grander sense of universality.
The film does pretty well, too, even after a contrived introduction in which Page, The Edge and White are shown arriving separately as if they're prize fighters coming to a bout. Despite their disparate backgrounds (and White's prediction that "a fight" would break out when they met), it's a cordial get-together that feels surprisingly unforced and natural.
You can draw an obvious straight line from Led Zeppelin to the White Stripes, which would seem to leave The Edge as odd man out -- especially since White's and Page's styles are so clearly blues-based, while The Edge is more about texture and tone. There are also some interesting undercurrents that might have made White's prediction of fisticuffs come true. U2 came about partly in reaction to the excesses of '70s rock bands like Led Zeppelin, while White's backward-looking blues-rock is a reaction to the coldly processed mainstream rock of bands like ... well, U2.
No worries, though, because musicians speak a universal language that supersedes most differences. There's a moment about an hour in where The Edge and White exchange a knowing smile as Page fires up the riff to "Whole Lotta Love," and it's priceless.
Along with filming the trio's one-day jam session, director Guggenheim followed all three principals back to their own turfs to capture each player in his element. The Edge comes across as the reclusive, practical mystic, doing yoga and obsessively working alone in his studio late at night. White is the primitive, noble-savage savant, demonstrating how to let a guitar know who's boss and literally leaving his blood on the instrument. And the very dapper Page looks more like a member of Parliament than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame -- until he plays Dunn native Link Wray's epic guitar instrumental "Rumble" for a visitor, which lights him up like a Christmas tree.
That obvious love for music and the craft of guitar-playing motivates all three men, who pay ample tribute to their influences. White singles out North Carolina rockabilly duo Flat Duo Jets for special praise, amid namechecks The Jam, Son House, Blind Gary Davis, "This Is Spinal Tap" and scores more.
"It Might Get Loud" plays like "High Fidelity" come to life, the sort of fish-out-of-water pairing that a bunch of record-store geeks would have dreamed up. While it could use a bit more playing and less talking, it does end perfectly with White, Page and The Edge playing "The Weight" hootenanny-style. Looks like they had the time of their lives.