If you’ve never seen The Rolling Stones in concert, then Shine A Light is a must see. If you have, then the film will alternately be thrilling, mesmerizing, rocking and, as most concert films are, occasionally dull.
Since Martin Scorsese directed it, one suspects that critics elsewhere were a bit too fawning in their praise. After all, U2 has already moved onto 3D, and they didn’t pretend to make a documentary out of it either.
Filmed over two nights at New York’s Beacon Theater in 2006, Scorsese sets the film up like a real warts and all behind the scenes look at the band. His shtick is that he’s waiting for Mick Jagger’s set list in order to line up his camera shots, but Jogger being the notorious controlling frontman that he is, won’t reveal what the bond will play until showtime.
In between shots of former US President Bill Clinton showing up to meet the bond, Scorsese is seen frantically trying to get the best locations for his 18 cameras that his arsenal of Academy Award winning photographers will helm. ‘We cannot burn Mick Jagger,’ Scorsese says to a cameraman when discussing a setup which seems obviously staged,
When the familiar chords of opener ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ ring out, Scorsese finally gets his setlist and it’s showtime. Stones fans and newcomers are in for a treat, as Jagger struts, preens, shakes and sings with a ferocity that seems far more intense than his mega outdoor shows would seem to indicate. In fact, he preens too much.
Two songs in, drummer Charlie Wafts is spotted looking visibly pooped at how energetic this theater gig is. On the rocking numbers, the entire bond seem like this theater and this stage is where they were born to be. Their showmanship and professionalism can run rings around bonds half their age
Perhaps to please younger fans, many of whom can be seen mindlessly bopping in the front rows, a nervous Jack White (White Stripes) appears onstage to duet with Jagger. Christina Aguilera will also try to hold her own, but its bluesman Buddy Guy who fares best on ‘Champagne and Reefer" (guitarist Keith Richards even gives him his guitar). Otherwise, Richards performs a couple numbers and memorably says "It’s good to see you all. It’s good to see anybody" while Jagger’s energy knows no bounds.
As a so-called ‘documentary’ though, the film reveals little about the band, and you wish it would. One humorous bit has a young twenty-something Jagger saying that yes, he can see himself singing when he’s 60. It appears that more meaningful recent interviews were left on the cuffing room floor (or will appear on what should be a fine DVD).
The setlist too leaves something to be desired. It’s a little too much "Some Girls" and not enough ‘Exile On Main Street or ‘Sticky Fingers". It’s also, when one gets down to it, Shine A Light is a film about one veteran director having a love affair with his favorite veteran bond. And vice versa -Scoff Murphy
Martin Scorsese Speaks About Shine A Light
Your Bob Dylan documentary was huge critical success. Did you think about doing something similar with the Stones?
Scorsese: Well, to make a history of the Stones, that would mean making a very different film, And quite honestly, what I wonted to see was the performance. In the long run, I’d rather see what it is that makes them so special, even now. You’re allowed to age gracefully as a blues musician, a jazz musician or an opera singer, but there’s this age thing that comes into play with rock ‘n roll But you’re seeing so many of the greatest rock stars and singers aging gracefully, and moving onto new levels of maturity and power. So that’s what I wanted to capture.
The Stones come across in your film as such a powerful force.
Scorsese: True I think ifs a film about doing what you do until its over, and it’s only over when its over, of the very, very end. You know, going back to making a longer documentary, that’s very tempting. But I realized that what I was really compelled to do was cover their performance. I’ve seen them onstage often over the years because Mick and I have been working on a project together in the music business, a feature film, and this is something I’ve always had in mind, consciously or unconsciously
Does the film focus on a band?
Scorsese: No, it’s about the music business – ruthless and tough.