Saturday, August 15, 2009

Jimmy Page recasts his life story in 'It Might Get Loud'; echoes of Les Paul observed in another flick also showing in New York this week

Reminders of the late Les Paul permeate anything having to do with modern music. The 94-year-old guitarist and multi-track recording pioneer is remembered in two new music documentaries that premiered in New York City, coincidentally the day after his death.

In "It Might Get Loud," associate producer Jimmy Page employs a unique opportunity to relate some of the key stories of his musical career. His two co-stars are as mesmerized with Page as they are forthcoming with stories of their own formative moments.

Meanwhile, "Rock Prophecies" focuses on recent developments in the life of longtime rock photographer Robert M. Knight. For more than four decades, he has lived to capture still images of little known bands and artists who would later become the world's most seminal figures in rock music. In the '60s, his subjects were Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Knight, in the film, says he collects rock stars. His shots of ZZ Top, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Slash, Panic at the Disco and many more are highlighted in the film.

In both movies, electric guitar features prominently. It is the central muse of "It Might Get Loud," which director Davis Guggenheim has described as "a love letter to the electric guitar." The instrument figures no less in "Rock Prophecies," where Knight's discovery of blues guitarist Tyler Dow Bryant at age 16 gives way to a turning point in the unfolding plot as Knight champions and courts the youngster to some of his formidable connections in the music world.

Knight, in his narrative asides and on-screen encounters, peppers "Rock Prophecies" with anecdotes about the musicians he's photographed. In one scene, he passes on to the young band Panic at the Disco some insight he attributes to Robert Plant: that the more successful you become, the lower the quality of the people you meet.

In "It Might Get Loud," numerous witticisms and observations come straight from the artists themselves in personal revelations by Jack White, The Edge and Page. When Edge asks Page what songs from his '60s studio session work in London he would recognize Page's uncredited playing on, the elder guitarist names one, Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger" and immediately relates a story about the recording session. Edge follows up and asks if Page played with the Kinks, and the elder guitarist ends up saying yes but the reports of his pervasive contributions to them have largely been exaggerated.

While White discusses how unpopular it was to play any musical instrument in his native town and Edge recalls the impact the punk music movement and violence in his Irish homeland had on his music in U2, Page talks moviegoers through every phase of his career prior to and including Led Zeppelin. As a visual backdrop is a showcase of many still photos of Page as a youth.

The film may not have many new revelations for the ardent Zeppelin fans who have ingested the liner notes of every box set to the point of memorizing dates and facts, but this film may possibly represent the most accessible way for fans of rock music in general to learn, directly from Page, about his direct line of progress from his early road work to art school to his session days to the Yardbirds and, finally, Led Zeppelin. While playing an instrumental version of the recognizable "Ramble On" for the cameras, a cleverly placed voiceover from Page demonstrates the concept of "light and shade" in Led Zeppelin's music.

If "It Might Get Loud" is a love letter to the electric guitar, it is also a tribute to Les Paul. "Rock Prophecies" is a tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan and a love letter to Knight's mother, who is living with Alzheimer's disease under his care. Touching moments in "Rock Prophecies" make the film suitable for all audiences with a heart.

"It Might Get Loud" is playing daily in New York at the AMC Empire 25 and the Landmark Sunshine Cinema through at least Aug. 20. It is also showing in Los Angeles. Further theatrical release dates in U.S. locations have been scheduled through October.

"Rock Prophecies" is playing daily at the IFC Theater near New York University through Aug. 20. It will also show Aug. 27 in Aspen, Colo., and Sept. 5-6 in Seattle, Wash. Click here for more details.

1 comment:

  1. I cannot agree more concerning Jimmy's history of music writing. He has always been one to take bits and pieces and let them simmer, sometimes for years. Some of his best work evolved this way. Stairway being a case in point. However, in those days he was always working on things. He was always moving in different directions musically and working with Led Zeppelin, solo projects such as Outrider, and the Firm. Lately it seems not to be the case quite so much. Or am I missing something?


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