Shine A Light
Martin Scorsese has had his hand on several of the best rock movies ever, and he keeps his batting average improbably high via the Rolling Stones with Shine A Light. Shot over two nights in NYC’s Beacon Theatre in late 2006, the film provides the bulk of the far more energetic second night. Less epochal than his landmark work with The Band on The Last Waltz (presumably the Stones will continue to roll), Shine A Light is more of a snapshot of a band in motion and less of a retrospective. Apparently Scorsese wanted more context and the band wanted more performance, and the creative tension is evident. Scorsese is seen twitching his prodigious eyebrows in the weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds before the band hits the stage…he apparently never saw a set list.
The film has footage leading up to the event, involving set and lighting design. Although seemingly hectic, things are far more organized than the parallel footage in preparation for the band’s era-ending Altamont show four decades ago. Bill Clinton brings in his entourage for a meet and greet, echoing their time together when the ex-Prez opened for them at Staples a few years ago.
Once the show starts, Scorsese and the audience quickly discover the first song is “Jumping Jack Flash,” pulled from its usual place at the end of the evening. The blazing guitars of Wood and Richards are the consistent aural centerpiece of the band’s performance. Jagger is the visual centerpiece, hyperactively gyrating through the dozen and a half songs. Jagger dons a guitar occasionally, more for visual than sonic effect. Wood only sheds his trusty Fender for one song (he drives a steel guitar through the country honk of “Far Away Eyes”), but Richards moves through a series of guitars, eventually giving a Gibson to guest Buddy Guy after a blistering “Champagne and Reefer.”
The film’s genesis was to shoot the band’s performance at the ginormous Rio beach concert. Fortunately, Scorsese pulled everyone in the opposite direction, opting for the immediacy of the intimate Beacon Theatre. Technically, Scorsese does a great job ensuring that the cameras are rarely seen in the final cut of the film. He assembled a sterling crew of world-class cinematographers, and the results are obvious. The editing captures many iconic rock images: fingers fluttering on fretboards, guitar picks handed to lucky fans, grins shared between performers.
Scorsese dips into the vaults for some cleverly chosen interview clips, a fleeting montage of which segues brilliantly into “Just My Imagination.” Of the four Stones, Watts plays the role of the bemused onlooker, as his three rail-thin mates prance about between him and the audience.
The sound mix is crisp, and the music’s power is almost relentless. Although Guy’s guest appearance is an appropriate link to the Stones’ roots in American blues, the duets with Jack White III and Christina Aguilera seem like a shallow, needless nod to a younger demographic.
This year has seen a remarkable renaissance of the rock film. U2 3D set the bar for use of technology in a rock film and Hanna Montana set the bar for per screen averages. In an off year, Scorsese and the Stones would have taken the prize.