A film review by Craig J. Koban
SHINE A LIGHT
2008, PG-13, 122 mins.
2008, PG-13, 122 mins.
With Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, Charlie
Watts, Buddy Guy, Christina Aguilera, Jack White and Bill Clinton.
A LIGHT is one of the great movie going experiences; it’s a work
that successfully highlights the variety, longevity, and greatness
of The Rolling Stones, not to mention that it reveals its chief architect,
director Martin Scorsese, having supreme command over their concert images.
This is a marriage made in the combined heavens of film and music
lovers: We have “The Greatest Rock n’ Roll Band in the World”
and, it could be easily argued, the greatest living American director at
the helm. The end result of
that perfect equation is two hours of unbridled energy, vitality, and
showmanship from those in front of and behind the camera.
It’s simply one of the most dazzling and fully immersing concert
documentaries that I’ve ever seen.
is no stranger to filming rock docs.
He did, after all, direct what has been hailed as the preeminent
concert film of all-time in 1978’s THE LAST WALTZ, which in turn
chronicled the November 1976 concert of The Band.
That film was initially supposed to be shot in 16mm, but Scorsese
opted to use seven 35mm cameras and insisted that the film be
done as a large-scale production. That
aesthetic essence can be felt through every pore of SHINE A LIGHT.
Working with editor David Tedeschi and a relative all-star team of
some of the best cinematographers working today, Scorsese paints an
extraordinary canvas of the Stones’ larger than life on stage personas.
His team - which includes head cinematographer Robert Richardson along with
nine others that include multiple Oscar winners and nominees - makes SHINE A
LIGHT a breathtaking tour de force of sights and sounds where Scorsese's
esoteric fingerprints can easily be seen.
you get to see the Stones perform. Not
seen countless concert films and one of my main criticisms is that you
never felt like the film version could ever substitute for the live
experience. I think that
SHINE A LIGHT may be the first to contradict that sentiment.
Instead of using static and comatose medium and wide shots in
combination with the obligatory close ups, Scorsese films this concert
with startling immediacy, vigor, and potency.
The camera is rarely listless; instead, he uses his set ups to
swoop in and out, up and down, and around the performers to foster that
seemingly intangible in-the-moment sensation of escapism.
No doubt, when the very first strings of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
can be heard and Scorsese (whom appears in the film) yells at his
operators “go,” you can feel the intensity and vivaciousness of this
whole enterprise. The rest of
the film never lets this initially feeling of giddy excitement run dry.
concert in question documents two 2006 performances by the Stones that
took place during their “A Bigger Bang Tour” at New York’s cozy and
intimate Beacon Theatre (well chosen by Scorsese; a larger venue that
included spectators of tens of thousands might have been difficult to
pull of as effectively as this). Much
as he did in THE LAST WALTZ, Scorsese infuses himself in the proceedings
in SHINE A LIGHT and almost becomes one of the film’s most compelling
side characters. In the
prologue (shot in grainy black and white footage), we see the Stones
traveling from venue to venue and witness Mick Jagger’s constant indecision
about most of the specifics of the Beacon show: He is shown scornfully
chastising a concept artist's proposed stage decorating mock up, not to
mention that he can’t seem to decide what songs to play and in what
order. This, of course,
drives the directorial control freak in Scrosese batty as he is back in New
York and desperately trying to make sense of everything.
To many lesser directors, the choice of song order might not be
relevant, but not for Scorsese as he sees camera shots and specific lighting
moods for each number. What
seems to be clear is that the concert in SHINE A LIGHT may have been
choreographed by the director and his legion of cinematographers in a
painstaking manner, but they also could have been doing everything by the
seat of the pants.
is also some well timed bits of sarcastic humor thrown in here for good
measure: We see a conference
call between Jagger and Scorsese where he tries to tell the singer why
moving cameras would not be the audience distraction that Jagger fears
they’re going to be. We
also have a funny bit where a stage hand says that any light on Jagger
will cause him to “burn up”, to which Scorsese responds, “Do you
mean flaming? ‘Cause we
don’t want to burn Mick Jagger.”
After all of these brief introductory
scenes and garish hand held
footage the film breaks loose with abandon and SHINE A LIGHT explodes on the
screen in a techno-audio-visual nirvana.
Scorsese and company bathes the screen image with every shot:
nothing is left to waste. What’s
interesting here is how the camera does not move or work itself around the
performances by the Stones, but rather with the performances to the point
where the two entities feel intertwined.
The cinematography is lush, colorful, and ethereally gorgeous at
times (look at one shot in particular late in the film when Jagger emerges
from a door from behind the audience basked in red light or many moments
where the constant smoke from Keith Richards’ cigarettes frames his face
and body with the seductiveness of a film noir).
The camera, especially when fixated on Jagger, is never still,
which is highly appropriate considering the singer’s sinewy limbs
flailing around with boundless enthusiasm and hedonistic joviality.
With Scorsese on deck, you don’t simply just watch Jagger; you
feel his passion and limitless stamina and dynamism.
there are simple shots, like one that closes in on drummer Charlie Watts
after one grueling number, where he looks into camera, gasps for some air,
and appears like he has just run a marathon (you can almost sense him saying
to himself, “I’m getting too old for this!").
Some moments even have tenderness about them:
Look at one duet with Keith Richards and Jagger sharing a microphone
have a youthful camaraderie that they have carried since their school days
friendship). There are also
sequences that crank the tempo down, for good measure, especially during
two of my favorite numbers in the film.
The first is Jagger, assisted by Buddy Guy, singing “Cigarrettes
and Reefer” (Scorsese holds a few shots on Guy’s face that are
trancelike) and a rare Richards solo, “You’ve Got the Silver.”
His words to fans after he finishes are priceless:
He stops, cracks a sly, mischievous grin, and mutters, “Cool,
all of this sumptuous concert visuals Scorsese splices in some archival
footage of the band throughout their careers.
Nothing here generally digs too deep, but there are some moments
that are subtlety revealing. There
is one instance where a very young Jagger states that he thinks the Stones
will only continue on for “another year or so” and years later, during
a 70’s interview, he cryptically - and self-deprecatingly - states that
he would be thrilled if the band played into their 60’s (Jagger will be
65 in July). Then there are
some hilarious clips that shows some of the band mates at
one American interviewer asks Watts how he could encapsulate the Stones’
success with breaking through to the US market, he stoically replies, “I
have no idea.” Then there
is another droll moment when another interviewer asks Richards what is the
most frequently asked question he has received, to which he sardonically
states, “Well…that one, mate.”
of this is fun, but the real fun of SHINE A
LIGHT is seeing the concert itself. The playlist emphasizes the band’s unique and eclectic
stylings (their work has always been a homogenization of rhythm and blues,
country, reggae, and rock and roll, and this shows in the film).
The songs, of course, are some of the more indelible of modern
music, and despite the fact that we’ve heard them a million times
before, the performance here still feels fresh.
what’s most extraordinary is the awe-inspiring tenacity and spunk exuded
by Jagger himself. His face
is clearly that of a man that is creeping up on 70, but everything from
the neck down looks like he’s never departed his twenties.
Some musicians and singers forty years younger look as stiff as lamp
posts, but Jagger careens and thrusts himself into every single song like
he just drank ten expressos and topped it off with two packs of cigarettes
and a massive injection of speed. Even
if one is not taken in by the Stones’ music, there is absolutely no
denying the fact that Jagger and company cavort joyously and
enthusiastically around on stage without any regard to their elderly
frailties. Physically, these
guys are beyond mortal looking, but on a pure emotional level, they are
ageless and immortal. The fact that Jagger alone commands the stage for two hours
while only breaking a modest sweat is astounding.
What’s most primal about The Stones is that they love what they
do; age will simply not impede them.