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Les Paul's legacy looms large in 'It Might Get Loud'

At a screening of the movie starring Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White, the filmmakers honor the late guitarist and inventer.

August 17, 2009|Steve Appleford

There's a moment in the documentary "It Might Get Loud" when Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, while sitting with fellow guitarists Jack White and the Edge, reaches for his Gibson Les Paul to play a thundering "Whole Lotta Love." The solid-body guitar remains the model of choice for Page and many of rock's leading players, and is the enduring legacy of the late guitarist and inventor Les Paul.

"It was like a throwdown," director Davis Guggenheim said of that moment in his film. "It was like, 'I'm done talking.' "

Paul, who died Thursday at age 94, was very much on the mind of Guggenheim at a Friday opening-night screening of "It Might Get Loud" at the Landmark Theater in West Los Angeles.

"This screening will be dedicated to Lester William Polsfuss, who was born on June 9, 1915," he told a full house and then read details of the man's life from a newspaper obituary.

It was a fitting setting for a tribute, as the film is an intimate look at three distinctive rock guitarists and their relationships with the instrument: Page, U2's the Edge and White (of the White Stripes, Raconteurs, Dead Weather, etc.). It's on his black "No. 2" Les Paul that Page grinds a raw, shimmering riff over the film's opening credits.

As the 97-minute documentary rolled, Guggenheim gathered with producer Lesley Chilcott, editor Greg Finton and other members of his crew to celebrate the opening at an adjacent bar. The director drew a line from Paul to the restless guitarists in his film, noting that the Edge built a guitar from scratch as a teenager with his brother, and White is seen constructing a primitive "Diddley Bow" in the opening scene from a plank of wood, a Coke bottle and a single string.

"Les Paul was constantly taking things apart and making things better, finding a tool for him to express himself," Guggenheim said. "They each take this thing and modify it for themselves to say what they want it to say."

"Words are their second language," he added with a grin. "Their first language was this piece of wood, the strings and electricity."

Of the many hours of footage left out of the film was a scene in which Page spoke of hearing the guitar on Paul and Mary Ford's "How High the Moon" for the first time. "It blew his mind and he wondered how he did it," Guggenheim said.

After the film ended Friday, the filmmakers took questions from the audience. One of the first was about how the three guitarists were chosen.

Producer Chilcott, who also worked with Guggenheim on the Oscar-winning "An Inconvenient Truth," noted that Page was the first to sign on. She also smiled and admitted, "My mother didn't talk to me for a couple of months because of some of the people we left out of the movie."

"Namely?" asked Guggenheim.

"Namely, Les Paul," she answered with a nod.

Another fan just wanted to know the most rewarding part of making a film like this. Editor Finton had an easy answer: "I got to meet Jimmy Page."

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calendar@latimes.com

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