Filmed over an electric two night stand at NYC's intimate Beacon Theatre, Shine a Light opens not with an immediately recognizable guitar riff or a howling â"woo woo," but with Scorsese's neurotic need to get something - anything - from the Stones other than heartburn. With the band's A Bigger Bang tour in full international swing, all-business-Mick calling to complain about the set design and moving cameras, Ron and Keith busy playing pool and chain smoking, and Watts, well no one's sure where Watts is, it's impossible for Scorcese and his heavy sweat-beaded brows to get any of them to commit to a meeting, let alone a finalized set list.
Framed in black and white, that footage is not only a loving cup of partially fictionalized pre-production humor - pinning the finely scripted Scorsese against four veteran rockers who still insist on shooting from their hip replacements - but plays with four personalities as distinct as their sound. Mick the consummate front-man and back-stage professional. Charlie the revered, though often confused, musician. Ronnie the fun-loving and eager to play Ying, to Keith's questionably stoned and cool-as-a-cucumber Yang. Even an hour before show time, the Stones prefer hugging it out with the Clintons, leaving Marty to suffer heart palpitations over unresolved camera angles, pyrotechnics that threaten to set Jagger on fire, and that MIA set list. (Although I'm not quite sure how â"rock â€˜n roll" it is to delay the show on account of Hillary's tardy mum. It is however to hear Richards saying â"Hey Clinton, I'm bushed." Cue Richard's laughter-turned-smoker's cough.)
But once the lights turn on, the blonde babies who don't know the Rolling Stones from the Stone Roses fill the front row waving their camera phones, the long-awaited set list gets passed to the sound booth and Mick screams â"I was born in a cross-fire hurricane." Marty can now breathe a sigh of relief, and at least for a little while, take his seat as hard-core fan, allowing the Stones to take the reigns and do what they do best ... rock.
And even though it takes a little while for Mick's pipes to warm up, rock they do. With a nineteen song set list featuring such favorites as Shattered, Start Me Up, (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, and Sympathy for the Devil, as well as lesser known numbers and covers, including the Stones' rendition of Just My Imagination by The Temptations and As Tears Go By, a song written by Jagger and Richards but originally recorded by Marianne Faithfull, Shine a Light is a testament to the staying power of the Stones. Four and a half decades of rock may be carved into their faces, and Watts may look into the camera every now and again heaving a sigh of exhaustion (or perhaps disbelief at their unrivaled longevity), but the act hasn't changed. Mick still struts and sashays his tiny tush around stage with incomparable energy, requiring sixteen manned cameras to keep up with his aerobic pace, and Keith and Ron still play each song with such unbridled affection for their fans, and each other, that it's obvious that even wild horses couldn't drag them away.
In fact, Scorsese briefly injects archival footage of the band between sets (although Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, etc. is uncomfortably absent), impressing that power of regeneration, and playing on the media's obsession with their advancing age. In one memorable interview, Dick Cavett asks a fresh-faced Jagger whether he can picture himself doing this at sixty; without hesitation Jagger cheekily responds â"yeah, easily." Scorsese cuts back to the modern stage and there stands a wide-mouthed Jagger in a familiar hands-on-his-hips stance, pushing sixty-five, and yet, swallowing the microphone with the same intensity as his former self. Even Richards, who most haggardly wears the years of sex, drugs and rock â€˜n roll, gives old Mick a break, steps to the microphone for You Got the Silver and takes a stab at the obvious: â"it's good to see you all," he says. And then with an exhale of smoke and a slight grin adds, â"it's good to see anybody."
It's also good to see that the band remains somewhat humbled in the presence of other artists who share their stage. Jack White of the White Stripes joins Jagger for Loving Cup (and appears almost star-struck in Mick's company) and Christina Aguilera wastes no time showcasing her soulful pipes on Live With Me (although her and Mick's excessive grinding tends to make one a bit uncomfortable in a Lolita/ Humbert Humbert sort of way). But it is the legendary Buddy Guy who, without a doubt, steals the show when he joins the Stones for a dirty, blues-laden rendition of Muddy Waters' Champagne and Reefer. It is so raw, so electric, that even Richards gets down on his modest knees and presents The Man with his guitar.
Capturing every second of it is a phenomenal team of ten OscarÂ® winning and/ or nominated cinematographers, some of whom have such small, Indie films as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, The Aviator, and Braveheart on their respective resumes. Led by Robert Richardson, their collective footage taken from every conceivable angle, never misses a beat, showcases the power of the live performance, and of course, shines a light on the rhythm of the experience.
But the Stones never once play to them, they play for them. When Keith lays his arms on Ronnie's shoulders, they play for one another. When Mick erupts from the back of the theatre with the crowd parted like the red sea, they play for the fans. And when the music has taken a toll on their tired fingers and the crowd still wants more, they let it bleed.
Shine a Light - a song title from the Stones 1972 album Exile on Main Street - is not only a delicious blend of sight and sound, but a passion project for the director whose career has been inspired by them. Scorsese, whose other rock docs include The Band's adieu in The Last Waltz, Woodstock, and No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, seizes the stamina of his legendary muse rockers, celebrates the beauty of being a fan by offering the best seat in the house and focuses intently on one thing, and one thing only: the music. Granted, his post-show shots are rather cheesy and superfluous, and I would have preferred to learn more about the men behind the music through more of the engaging sixties footage, interviews and behind-the-scenes antics rather than a straight-up concert experience, but I suppose you can't always get what you want. But for any fan longing for the infectious rock and soul that is the Rolling Stones, you definitely get what you need.
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
Subtitles: English; French; Spanish
Language and Sound: English: English; AC-3, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, DVD-Video, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
o Supplemental featurette
* Previews for Stop-Loss, Neil Young: Heart of Gold, No Direction Home, American Teen, Defiance, The Duchess and Son of Rambow.
* Music video: Undercover of the Night, Paint It Black, A Little T & A and I'm Free
Number of Discs: 1 with Keepcase Packaging
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