There are artists and there are showmen, and sometimes the twain does meet. Case in point: Shine a Light, a Rolling Stones concert film directed by Martin Scorsese. Of course, the Stones and Scorsese can justly call themselves artists, but their current collaboration is all about showing off, and there's no shame in that. Well, maybe just a little, but more on that anon.
Beginning with a whirlwind mini-documentary much more about staging and mythology than objective reality, Scorsese's film whips up a small drama of an auteur director trying in vain to pin down blithely spontaneous rock stars. By gum, it's chaos! As seen in a sequence of precision intercutting, the band and the director can't get in the same room to coordinate the concert, Scorsese keeps asking for a locked-down set list (to no avail), Mick Jagger complains about the cameras ("They whiz around all the time—they're annoying and dangerous"), and Scorsese's assistant director tells him he can have the light he wants, but it'll set a man aflame after 18 seconds of exposure. "We cannot burn Mick Jagger," the hyperactive director chatters. "We want the effect, but we can't burn him."
Then there's the control-room scene that ends the black-and-white documentary and sends the film into full-color musical overdrive. As the Stones take the stage, Scorsese's A.D. thrusts his arm out: "Set list." "Okay," Scorsese blurts. "First song!" Bang: it's the hard-driving opening riff of "Jumping Jack Flash." These gags have the feel of recreations rather than spontaneous happenings, a feeling only exacerbated by Scorsese becoming in recent years a mascot of the movies. It's been a fun ride, ranging from popular scholarship ("A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies", "My Voyage to Italy") to cinema burlesques ("The Key to Reserva" and the currently in-rotation AT&T ad playing in movie theatres, with Scorsese directing a mother and daughter in the kid's bedroom). And then there's his well-deserved, long delayed Oscar win. Scorsese's celebrity is inseparable from Shine a Light, its title even encapsulating the magic of movies as much as the blessing invoked in the Stones song of the same name.
But after the prelude and until the film's final moments, Scorsese shines his light exclusively on the Stones. In the IMAX version of the film, the transition is especially spectacular, as the frame opens up to giant-size and we're blasted for the first time with ear-splitting guitar (and only in IMAX can one fully appreciate Jagger's dental work). The Stones are in fine fettle, and Scorsese's design allows an intimate look at their respective stage demeanors; at times, you may feel you're watching a wildlife film. Adding to the intimacy: this is no arena show. The occasion is a two-night late-2006 gig, to benefit the Clinton Foundation, at New York City's Beacon Theatre (and yes, the Stones meet and greet with Bill, Hillary, and their nearest and dearest).
Certainly, the Stones are well-honed showmen, and the extended opening riff about blasé song-selection indecision and relaxed "just tell us where to stand" attitude demonstrate that they need all the spontaneity they can get to keep from fatal boredom. Of course, once you start them up, they never stop. It's a testament to the group that this hit parade doesn't feel musty, and Jagger never betrays a hint of flagging energy despite his advancing years. Jagger is forgiven for rarely seeming relaxed, given the burden on him to deliver. Drummer Charlie Watts is a human metronome (though even he, at one point knowingly blows out a breath of air, leans back, and gives a camera a "Whew, that was somethin', huh?" look). Guitarists Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards seem to be genuinely having a blast, with Richards pulling his vocal chords together for an impressive two-fer of "You Got the Silver" and "Connection." Coming from the Stones, songs like "You Got the Silver" and "Satisfaction" lack credibility in their bluesy yearnings that invoke being "hungry and thirsty" for sex (and by association, in the former's metaphor, wealth), but it's for this reason we have willing suspension of disbelief.
The Richards interlude is Jagger's break in the show, and he returns with that aforementioned dramatic blast of lighting (he survives). Jagger's stage style—butt-waggling, hip-shaking, midriff-baring—has been well-documented, but it only grows more impressive with age. In a move reminiscent of his work on No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, Scorsese surgically inserts some archival clips that humorously highlight the band's longevity and place in the public eye. Aside from being consummate professional musicians, it's that endurance as a group that makes the Stones such an aberration. A through-the-years media montage leads into "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)" as if to say, only a strong sense of escapism could keep these musical superstars sane.
Of the parade of guest artists—Jack White, Buddy Guy, and Christina Aguilera—meant to keep things fresh, only Buddy Guy delivers in spades, in an electrifying back-and-forth with Jagger on Muddy Waters' "Champagne and Reefer" (the White duet suffers from a sound sync issue—possibly the result of wedding one night's audio to another night's footage?). The presence of Guy and four African-American artists in the backing band (principally Blondie Chaplin of The Band and the Beach Boys) is a constant and somewhat ironic reminder of the Stones' roots in black musical traditions. That said, the band's musical versatility comes out in the country-styled "Runaway Eyes," a highlight that's nevertheless not necessarily what casual Stones fans wants to hear.
And perhaps Shine a Light isn't what every Scorsese fan wants to see, but he's following his own senior-citizen muse, and we're in good hands. Nimble, fluid camerawork (led by esteemed cinematographer Robert Richardson, with an assist from Albert Maysles) and editing (by David Tedeschi) take us onstage with the Stones for a night. In the end, Scorsese stages a final tribute to his subject and himself: a trick tracking shot that takes us backstage and out of the theatre and up above the New York skyline. It's a bit much, a bit obnoxious, and yet somehow in keeping with the larger-than-life pairing of musicians and filmmaker. Whatever your taste, you'll have to agree: Shine a Light is music and cinema writ large.
Whoa mama! Proving that Blu-Ray isn't your daddy's DVD is Paramount's new disc of Shine a Light, the Rolling Stones concert extravaganza. While it can't compare to the IMAX version (the whole point of IMAX being not to compare to the Barcolounger experience), the high-definition Blu-Ray image and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound combine for a truly awesome home-viewing experience. (Of course, director Martin Scorsese also has a little something to do with Shine a Light being one of the most impressive concert films going.)
Excepting archival interview footage, the film is presented in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with the behind-the-scenes footage shot in black and white and the rest in brilliant color under dazzling, ever-changing lighting schemes. The sound mix is probably the most impressive of its kind on Blu-Ray.
Paramount keeps Stones fans happy with a handful of valuable bonus features, all in HD. First up is a piece labelled "Supplementary Featurette" (15:09), which is actually a seamless montage of outtakes: a few very cool soundcheck jams; informal chat-ups with the band, Buddy Guy, and the Clintons; and five more archival interview clips. It's a priceless grab bag from the cutting-room floor--would there were more of it.
The disc also includes a suite of Bonus Songs (16:44 with "Play All" option): "Undercover of the Night" (4:23), "Paint it Black" (4:38), "Little T & A" (4:08), and "I'm Free." Each added gem from the concert is well worth checking out. That's right, Stones fans, you can get satisfaction.
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