Six-string heroes storm Sundance
January 16, 2009
For some of the 60 or so guitar students Jeff Lawrence teaches in the Park City area — many of them 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds — the song they want to learn, note-for-note, was recorded more than 20 years before they were born.
It doesn’t matter that it is a standard from another era of rock ‘n’ roll. They still want to make sure they have Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page’s opus in their repertoire. "Stairway to Heaven," one of rock’s seminal songs, is what they request.
Page is one of three guitar players filmmaker Davis Guggenheim gathers together for his Sundance Film Festival documentary, "It might get loud." Lawrence credits Page’s opening riff in "Whole Lotta Love" for his choosing to pick up the instrument.
"It was just the heaviest thing I ever heard," says Lawrence, who lives in Kamas and fronts a band. "It just kind of fired me up, maked me want to start playing."
Page plays the elder statesman of the instrument in the film, which puts him on a Hollywood sound stage with U2 guitarist The Edge and White Stripes guitar player Jack White. The film records how the three generations of players approach the instrument.
"Three gunslingers — they each came carrying a guitar," Guggenheim says.
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The filmmaker and the guitarists shot the core part of the documentary over the course of two days on the sound stage, with the three seated in chairs surrounded by their instruments. Guggenheim says he did not tell them which songs to play or what topics they should broach. He did not want then talking to each other as they prepared for the shoot.
Parts of 91 songs are included in the film — some of them played for the filmmaker and others culled from concert footage.
"The fascinating thing was watching — and it’s in the movie — is watching Edge and Jack White watch Jimmy Page play the guitar," Guggenheim says.
Guggenheim follows each of them to their roots, traveling to Tennessee with White, to Dublin, Ireland, with The Edge and to London with Page, using their words to describe their styles. Page talks about writing "Stairway to Heaven," The Edge tells the filmmakers about the guitar playing on U2’s forthcoming album, and White writes a song while being filmed.
" picking three guys that are extremely different, what I hoped was the thing you found in common was this instrument," Guggenheim says.
Guggenheim, who is 45, returns to the festival that launched his best-known work, the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." The Edge, meanwhile, is appearing in a Sundance film the year after "U2 3D" held its premiere at the festival in front of a raucous crowd at the Eccles Center.
Sundance has long shown documentaries about influential figures in rock ‘n’ roll — Lou Reed, the Sex Pistols and Patti Smith among them — though Guggenheim says he made a film that does not follow the biographical pattern of many music documentaries.
"We knew there was something about this instrument, the electric guitar, which has not yet been explained . . . it has some kind of power, and some kind of sexual intensity," Guggenheim says.
Guitar players like Lawrence, the local teacher, and his students would not be dissatisfied with the musical selections in the film. Page’s fretwork on "Whole Lotta Love" is shown — that alone maybe enough to inspire more to start playing.
"One of the most classic, hard-core rock ‘n’ roll riffs ever," Guggenheim says.