31 March 2008

Shine a Light

Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Music performed by: The Rolling Stones
Full credits from IMDb

Grade: B+

Despite Mick Jagger’s lively prancing—his energetic frontmannery—a Rolling Stones concert is above all a sonic affair, rather than a visual event. A concert film, then, would seem pretty straightforward, at best: something to hear, but not much to look at—the sort of thing that goes straight to DVD or PBS.

Martin Scorsese, however, through his ever-moving concert cam, manages to make Shine a Light both. Through fast-paced editing and vigorous camera movement, Scorsese and his team imbue the par for the course proceedings with palpable vigor, without ever lapsing into cheap concert-movie cliché. (There are no canted shots of Keith Richards from below, for example.) The Rolling Stones may be commanding showmen, but on a screen they would be little more than clownish, costumed dinosaurs without Scorsese, who understands how to translate their performing prowess to film. (See: the Bridges to Babylon DVD.) Together, the two are a hell of an entertaining pair. Shine a Light doesn’t so much provide a “you are there” experience as a distinct experience all its own; it’s not just a document, but a living document—a loud, dizzying and overwhelming experience of pure cinema, all shaky close-ups and dancing tracking shots.

Coordinating such a complexly choreographed film was no easy task, logistically and otherwise, Scorsese is sure to let us know. The first fifteen minutes are dedicated to the concert and the film’s arrangements, a choppy and comical behind the scenes/making of—a special feature built into the film—in which Scorsese and Jagger risibly butt heads. Making a movie is tough! Especially when it involves a neurotic New Yorker dealing with easygoing, non-committal burnouts. Finally, someone tries to explain it to Scorsese: “this is rock n’ roll.”

Those first 15 minutes are about all the back-stage/offstage footage we get, distinguishing Shine a Light from its most obvious antecedent, 1978’s The Last Waltz, in which Scorsese spends a good deal of film interviewing the Band and watching them shoot pool or jam. But why waste time, Scorsese’s and the Stones’, shooting B-roll with a band that has decades worth in the vaults? Every two or three songs, Scorsese punctuates the concert (two concerts actually, at the Beacon Theater in Fall 2006) with archival interview footage that superficially fills in the Stones’ backstory, usually some ironic clip of an interviewer asking a question along the lines of, “how long do you fellas think you can keep this up?”

A long time, obviously! All yuks aside, that’s the point—the Rolling Stones are old but the band still sounds tight, demonstrating the sort of fine-tuned collaboration that gets honed over 45 years on the road, and Jagger is still as limber as a teenager. Not only that, but the boys, even if they’re mugging a bit for the conspicuous cameras, give off the feeling that they genuinely love one another, that they have a blast doing what they do and doing it together. In the end, Shine a Light is a celebration of perseverance from a long-working director who only recently got his best director Oscar—a tribute to doing what you love for as long as you can still do it. In the Rolling Stones, Scorsese has found himself, despite their superficial dissimilarities.

Watch the Trailer:


Anonymous said...

Does Mick sound better in the film than he did in the trailer? I decided there was no way I could stand watching the film after hearing his tuneless rhythmic yelling--it really sounds in the trailer like he can't sing at all anymore.

Anonymous said...

Jagger has definitely lost most of his range to age; sometimes it's glaring, especially in the very familiar tunes, but a lot of the songs, to me anyway, were not so familiar and so it wasn't so much of an issue. Also, in the sweep of the film I think his vocals are more forgivable than they seem they would be in the confines of a trailer.

Clayton L. White said...

Going to see it on Friday. In IMAX, baby. Excited to say the least. The Last Waltz is pretty much my favorite movie (I do worship The Band), so I have high hopes that Scorsese will do something special with the Stones. Your review puts me at ease, because even though the film may not be groundbreaking or poetic, it will still be one hell of a good show.

Cheers Henry

Anonymous said...

"Especially when it involves a neurotic New Yorker dealing with easygoing, non-committal burnouts. "

is this how you feel hanging out with me and my friends?

Anonymous said...

Can't say it packed the same gravitas or depth as a whole. The film felt vacant and left me wanting more, considering Scorsese's visceral excellence not only in narrative but in the concert film. It was definitely entertaining though, and I will admit to feeling a genuine reverence in watching Jagger and Scorsese sort their shit out.

It's also interesting the film begins with pre-production turmoil, eschewing idol-worship or tired hagiography. I think what Scorsese is saying is music - and its visual analogue, filmmaking - are both intense collaborative mediums that produce great art when the right minds and personalities are involved.

Buddy Guy was the highlight for me - watching the Stones play alongside with the old guard of post-war electric Chicago blues.