Shine a Light

(2008)
With The Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood), Darryl Jones, Buddy Guy, Jack White, Christina Aguilera, Martin Scorsese, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Reviewed by JB 

And then suddenly, after four decades together... love!     SHINE A LIGHT works as a fine concert film featuring the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band, The Rolling Stones.  But there is a feeling of missed opportunities throughout the whole film.  The Rolling Stones have already released several concert films and videos throughout their career, but shouldn't the one directed by Martin Scorsese be something more?  After all, the man did THE LAST WALTZ and NO DIRECTION HOME, two of the finest rock documentaries ever.  In SHINE A LIGHT, Scorsese takes a stab at making a documentary on how to film a live Rolling Stones show, but after an entertaining ten minutes, it simply becomes another concert film.

     Those opening ten minutes chronicle an ongoing battle of wills between Mick Jagger the master rock and roll showman and Martin Scorsese the master film director.  Jagger is worried about the cameras being a distraction, Scorsese is desperate for a set list so he can coordinate his camera movements.  Jagger's not happy with the design of the stage, Marty doesn't really care. Not exactly riveting stuff, but very entertaining.  There is one classic exchange when somebody tells Marty that if he uses a certain light on Mick Jagger for more than 18 seconds, he will burn.  "You mean like... flames?" says Scorsese offhandedly.  "We cannot burn Mick Jagger... We want the effect, but we can't burn him."  But after a visit by President Clinton (the concert is a benefit for one of his foundations) and then Democrat front-runner Hillary Clinton, the concert begins (Scorsese getting the set list seemingly seconds beforehand) and we have two hours of The Rolling Stones running through some of their biggest hits as well as a handful of fun obscurities.

In a moment of clarity, Mick realizes the creepiness of it all     The Stones are in excellent form, with Mick Jagger, at age 62, still full of more energy by himself than ten other bands put together.  His voice is a little ragged during the first few songs, but it gets stronger as the night goes on.  Keith Richards and Ron Wood are still master at exchanging wicked guitar riffs, while Charlie Watts remains a rock-solid drummer.  The songs are drawn from various albums, with an emphasis on 1972's Exile on Main Street and 1978's Some Girls.  Significantly, the "newest" song in the film is "She Was Hot", from 1983's Undercover. Although I am by no means a Rolling Stones expert, it seems that not a single song from the 10 or so album they recorded since 1983 is included in the film or the concert.  Three guest stars appear, the one making the greatest impression being bluesman Buddy Guy, who demonstrates a voice ten times more powerful than Jagger's in their duet "Champagne and Reefer".  That's no knock on Jagger, whose voice was never terribly strong but always expressive, as in his hilarious performance of the countrified satire of "The Girl with Far Away Eyes."  The other guest stars fare less well.  Jack White of White Stripes does a decent duet with Jagger on "Loving Cup", while Christina Aguilera overdoes the energy on "Live with Me" but looks sexy as hell, especially when surrounded by the likes of Jagger, Richards and Wood.  

     Despite all the superb music, there is no insight or narrative as you'll find in THE LAST WALTZ, no clarity of purpose as you'll find in Bob Dylan's interview sections of NO DIRECTION HOME.  The film comes to no climax - it simply ends after rousing renditions of "Brown Sugar" and "Satisfaction" (okay, not a bad anti-climax there). There are four great personalities in the band, and yet Scorsese does not exploit them at all.  Some old interview footage of the Stones is sprinkled throughout the film, but it never really connects with the concert footage except to make the point that The Rolling Stones are still around and still rocking the house.  For some, that will be enough.  For me, I wish the film was a little less of a Rolling Stones film and a little more of a Scorsese film. 3½- JB

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