Jack White III
All as themselves
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Stones fans might forgive the musical gaffs and thrill at the film’s intimacy, just as film fans will gush by the very presence of Scorsese, but “Shine a Light” is merely an okay concert film rather than something for the time capsule.
In the fall of 2006, legendary British rock group The Rolling Stones played a two-night engagement at the Beacon Theater in New York and director Martin Scorsese assembled an amazing team to capture the show for the IMAX screen.
Despite being a life-long Stones fan, it’s hard not to be cynical knowing that every over-30 New York critic is going to rave and gush about this movie merely due to Scorsese’s involvement in capturing on film one of the most lasting rock bands of the 20th Century performing at a local venue which is smaller than 99% of the places the Rolling Stones have played in the last two decades. It certainly sounds like a promising prospect considering the amazing amount of talent Scorsese assembled to capture the film, including no less than four Oscar winning cinematographers manning the cameras, but it’s not the be-all end-all concert movie some might expect or be hoping for, since it’s plagued by problems that could only have been created by the number of egos involved in a project of this size.
This is very clear from the beginning of the film, which opens during the planning and preproduction phase for the shows as Scorsese manically tries to figure out what songs the band will be playing at the show, a bit of staged pretension that immediately takes you out of the movie by reminding you up front that this movie is just as much about Scorsese flexing his muscle as a director as it is about the band in concert. We won’t see Marty again until the end of the movie in an even sillier bit of pointless cinematic ego.
Opening with standards “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Shattered,” the film covers a lot of ground in terms of the band’s history and influences with a solid set. Jagger is on fire, still clearly one of the most dynamic rock frontmen performing after all these decades, and he really drives the film as he makes all of the songs pop, which may be why the cameras spend so much time focusing on him. Appearances by Jack White of the White Stripes and bluesman Buddy Guy in the Stones’ nod to their musical roots are high points of the concert, as is a duet with Christina Aguilera on “Live With Me,” which brings out Jagger’s nascent sexuality even more as the two carouse on stage in a way we haven’t seen since Jagger performed with Tina Turner. The cover of “Just My Imagination” is an interesting choice, as is the Stones’ nod to country “Far Away Eyes.”
Otherwise, the band is not at their best with Richards looking like an extra from “Night of the Living Dead”–seriously, my 85 year old father looks better than this guy–as he takes his usual laid-back approach to the extreme, clowning around with Wood and not worrying too much about hitting the right notes. I won’t even make the most obvious joke about how Richards may look in IMAX because the show is cleverly overlit to make them look younger on film.
The real feat of the films is the amazing achievement by David Tedeschi in editing all those cameras’ footage together, but unlike the far better film experience that is “U2 3D,” you never feel as if you’re there at the concert. Even with all of the talent behind the cameras, there’s a surprising lack of medium and long shots to set the tone of the venue, mainly focusing on the venue’s intimacy with lots of close-up shots of Mick and Keith. It’s nice to be able to get closer to the band while they’re performing and seeing every nod, wink and gesture one might never be able to see at a concert, but the feeling of not being there watching the show will probably be exacerbated when the film is shown in IMAX and those close-ups are blown-up to Godzilla-size proportions. The film just doesn’t give one any sense of the enormity of the shows the Stones normally put on when they play stadiums.
For all the time spent on the film’s cinematic visuals, it’s severely lacking in its sound quality and the mix of the music, which masks the rhythm and horn sections and backing vocals with a barrage of guitars that sadly allows you to hear every single gaff and flub from the Toxic Twosome. Seriously, guys, considering how long you’ve been playing together, you should be the tightest band on the face of the planet, but this special concert is so sloppy and loose that it’s embarrassing, especially Richards’ two song vocal set of “You Got the Silver” and “Connection” which should have been edited out of the movie and/or saved for the DVD.
Threatening to be more interesting than the concert footage are the archival interviews with the band from the past forty years talking about the future of the Stones, but even that gets tiresome after we see the same questions being asked and answered by the band. The sad fact is that the movie is just way too long, and even Stones fans might start losing patience with all the tangents in the band’s set until it finally returns to some of the known standards like “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Start Me Up” and “Brown Sugar.” It’s more than a little telling that the best songs (and the majority of their set) are over thirty years old.
The Bottom Line:
While “Shine a Light” is noteworthy as an achievement in capturing a legendary band in a rare concert event and there are some clear highlights, it’s a shame this movie wasn’t made 20 to 30 years ago when Scorsese or the Stones were at their prime. It’s also a shame that more attention was spent on the visuals than the quality of the music, since the latter makes it an imperfect concert movie that will be appreciated by diehard Stones fans but few others. In other words, “The Last Waltz” this is not.