Sunday, December 8, 2013

Shine a Light Movie Review

It’s only natural that Martin Scorsese would have made a Rolling Stones concert film. He was one of the first film directors to employ rock music on the soundtrack of his films and has continually returned to the Stones, even using “Gimme Shelter” three times, although it is sort of ironically absent from Shine a Light. But also Mick Jagger is a quintessential Scorsese protagonist. Watching him preen, gyrate, strut, and bounce on stage calls to mind Tom Cruise winning at pool in The Color of Money, the explosiveness of De Niro in Mean Streets, or his unpredictability in Taxi Driver, and the ferocious energy of Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. At the risk of sounding grandiose, there’s even a comparison to be made to Willem Defoe in The Last Temptation of Christ in Jagger’s ability to lead the crowd in The Beacon Theater, a historic temple of performance. Archival interview footage even reveals Jagger’s self doubt prior to performance – feelings that Defoe’s Jesus would find familiar.


A semi-fictionalized prologue sets up a conflict between Scorsese and the band, who are concerned about the stage design and camera placement. The editing makes it appear that Scorsese only gets the final set list seconds before the band takes the stage, though this seems unlikely. Regardless, this isn’t a documentary about the band, it’s a concert film designed to capture the energy the Stones exhibit on stage. The first three songs of the set – “Jumpin’ Jack Flash;” “Shattered;” and “She Was Hot” – reveal remarkable levels of performance energy for four men in their early to mid 60s. You begin to wonder if they can keep it up for long and even Charlie Watts looks like he’s longing for a reprieve at one point. But they keep blasting through a set list replete with songs only a true fan would know until they reach the closing numbers including “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Start Me Up,” “Satisfaction,” and “Brown Sugar,” each one played seemingly louder and tighter than their opening salvo.

This is primarily a concert film, a way for Scorsese to focus on the music, though he occasionally breaks for some on camera interviews with the band members. Most of these come from the first decade of the group’s existence. There’s one amusing question directed at Jagger when he was in his early 30s asking if he can imagine himself continuing these kinds of performances when he’s 60. He gives an unequivocal yes and Scorsese cuts back to the 2006 concert and with Mick still giving it 100 percent. Several guest performers join them on stage including Jack White, who looks positively thrilled to get to play alongside some guys who must be idols of his. When Buddy Guy joins them on an old Muddy Waters tune, I found my own face hurting from the smile it produced to listen to such great talent and artistry on display.

The Stones are not the greatest musicians or songwriters to produce rock and roll, but they have an undeniable rawness of sound that has worked so well many times over in Scorsese’s movies. With Shine a Light, he got the chance to capture them in performance in the city that has given him his greatest stories as a filmmaker, and in a historic and intimate venue that can appreciate it all.

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