Martin Scorsese. The Rolling Stones. IMAX format. What else do I really need to say about this exhilarating concert movie experience? If you're even a mild Stones fan you'll certainly get a charge out of this production. Me...I'm more of a Scorsese fan than a Stones fan. I like the Stones, I love some of their songs, but I am not the kind of person who is going to shell out over $100 to see them in concert, nor are they the end-all-be-all of music to my ears. To be honest, they've been "soundtrack music" for me over the years; the way Scorsese (my favorite filmmaker) has used their music in films ranging from GOODFELLAS, CASINO, and THE DEPARTED is how I have come to know them. I have a few of their CD's, have listened to them independently (they offer great tunes for cross-country driving), and I would be a moron if I didn't say that they're one of the greatest rock and roll bands ever. But after seeing them in SHINE A LIGHT (****), which is the most purely entertaining two hours I've spent in a movie theater this year, I have a new respect for them as artists and entertainers. Leave it to Scorsese, a rock and roll filmmaker if there's ever been one, to unleash their full power and leave the audience gasping for air. Make no mistake -- if you have any desire to see this film, don't see it on a regular movie screen. The result of seeing this electric, pulsating concert film on an IMAX screen is something that approaches the sublime on more than one occasion; it's truly an experience you'll never forget.
SHINE A LIGHT isn't deep. You're not going to "get to know" the Stones any more than you already do. This isn't a sprawling doc like Scorsese's more ambitious Bob Dylan film NO DIRECTION HOME, and nor is it a timely study of music like THE LAST WALTZ was 30 years ago. SHINE A LIGHT is the ultimate piece of fan-mail that the Stones could ever have received. Just as it's brutally clear that these four guys love making music together (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ron Wood), it's brutally clear that Scorsese idolizes them. So SHINE A LIGHT is just the Stones being the Stones, and doing it really, really well. Shot over a two night period at the Beacon Theater in NYC, Scorsese got his frequent cinematographer Robert Richardson (CASINO, BRINGING OUT THE DEAD, THE AVIATOR) to shoot the living piss out of the two shows. Along for the ride came a bevy of A-list camera operators, including Emmanuel Lubezeki (CHILDREN OF MEN, THE NEW WORLD), John Toll (THE THIN RED LINE, BRAVEHEART), Andrew Lesnie (LORD OF THE RINGS), Mitchell Amundsen (TRANSFORMERS), and Robert Elswit (THERE WILL BE BLOOD, BOOGIE NIGHTS), to name only a few. The results are staggering to say the least. Shooting in true IMAX format, the cameras never stop moving, swooshing, circling, and covering the stage, prowling with intensity and energy. David Tedeschi's (NO DIRECTION HOME) dynamic editing allows the film to glide through it's two hour run time. The first fifteen minutes or so comprise of behind the scenes footage of Scorsese and his crew setting up for the show, taking conference calls with Jagger, and trying to figure out what the song list would be. It's all very amusing, especially if you're a Scorsese buff like me. Just hearing Scorsese refer to Richardson as "Bob" made me smile. Then, when the screen fills up for the first time, it's like you're shot out of a cannon. The music explodes out of the speakers and the images singe the screen. In between some of the songs, we get quick cut-aways to old interviews with the Stones; it's a trip to see a baby-faced Jagger talking about the fact that he sees the band lasting only a few years in mainstream music. Ha! But SHINE A LIGHT is mostly about the music, and how much love the Stones have for one another and music in general.
And that's what shines through most in SHINE A LIGHT. Passion. You get to see the Stones in their element, with Jagger prancing around the stage like some sort of Mephistophelean showman. Always moving, always jiving, and always swaying his hips, it's a miracle this guy hasn't had a coronary while on stage. Richards, who in extreme close up looks like a sculpture, gets some big laughs, and has one incredible solo. The fourth-wall is even broken when Watts stares the camera down after a lengthy bit of drumming; it's a priceless moment. And then...there are the songs. The Stones wisely mixed it up, performing some of their biggest hits (Sympathy for the Devil, Jumpin' Jack Flash, Shattered, Start Me Up) while mixing in some older, lesser known tracks (As Tears Go By, Loving Cup). One of the best bits is when blues legend Buddy Guy comes out and sings Champagne and Reefer with Jagger; it's just about perfect. Christina Aguilera even makes an appearance, reminding everyone she's still got a set of pipes worth listening too.
This isn't a film that will win awards, it doesn't re-invent the wheel, and it's not a deeply revealing tell-all of The Rolling Stones. Scorsese wasn't interested in that. It's an exercise in style (the best kind) and an exercise in having fun, something the Stones clearly are having every time they get on stage. My only complaint of the film is that I wished there was more footage of Scorsese. But alas, SHINE A LIGHT isn't about its director as a character, it's about its director as a mood purveyor. Scorsese loves the Stones so much that he'll be damned if you don't love them as much as he does. And the final shot of the film, let it be said, will probably amount to the single finest shot of the year. Without completely spoiling it, Scorsese pays homage to his legendary stedicam shot through the Copacabana in GOODFELLAS with a few added twists. I laughed out loud and clapped. I was tired and sweaty yet physically charged-up after watching SHINE A LIGHT. It's a blast from start to finish, and a further reminder that Scorsese is the film world's greatest entertainer.