Rolling Stones movie: ‘Shine a Light’ (2008, Martin Scorsese)

by | Mar 30, 2008

I was bouncing around on the Web yesterday when I saw an ad for yet another Rolling Stones concert movie that’s apparently coming out this Friday in IMAX theaters.

Now, I have been a Rolling Stones fan since I received Goat’s Head Soup as a Christmas present at age 13 in 1973. I will never forget watching Gimme Shelter for the first of many times on late night TV in my high school years, or seeing Mick Jagger mocking my stunned, slack-jawed expression back to me from the stage at Chicago’s Soldier Field on my eighteenth birthday.

I love the Stones.

Nevertheless, it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and there have been so many gigantic Stones tours producing so many live albums and so much footage over the years that my first reaction to this latest thing was, “Oh, no — not another one.”

Shine a Light is a Martin Scorsese movie, so I clicked over to the official Web site and watched the trailer. It’s a helluva trailer.

Holy smokes! Now, I have to go.

Amy rolled her eyes, but she watched the trailer at my urgent insistence. Now, Amy has to go. My Jagger-loving sister Colette has to go. This movie just looks so damned cool.

That Scorsese made The Last Waltz, the greatest rock concert movie ever, certainly helps. It’s funny to see him arguing about cameras with Jagger on a speakerphone, ala Melvin Belli in Gimme Shelter. For this project, according to the Los Angeles Times, “Scorsese brought in Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson (JFK, The Aviator) to lead a team of fellow Oscar winners in John Toll, Andrew Lesnie and Robert Elswit, whose collective résumé includes There Will Be Blood, Braveheart and the Lord of the Rings franchise.” You get the impression that whatever was there to be captured got captured.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie in IMAX, but David Edelstein reviewed Shine a Light today on CBS Sunday Morning and, having watched it on some smaller screen, he thought IMAX might help. He also lamented Mick Jagger’s breakneck, slurred and robotic performances in the movie, which did bother me, too, during the Stones’ Super Bowl halftime appearance in 2006.

However, Edelstein loved the aura radiating from Keith Richards, which is apparent even in the trailer. The man is as rock and roll as it can possibly get. I gained even more respect for him as a serious and dedicated musician during a recent viewing of Hail! Hail! Rock N’ Roll, the 1987 Chuck Berry concert movie. While Keith is mostly known for playing hard, he actually works even harder.

There is an IMAX theater in Milwaukee, but it doesn’t look as if Shine a Light will be showing there, according to the IMAX theater listings, so I guess we’ll go south instead, to the Regal Lincolnshire 20 & IMAX.

[Update: April 15, 2008] So we saw Shine a Light on Sunday afternoon and we enjoyed it very much.

The first 15 minutes of the movie consists of the standard quick, tension-building, behind-the-scenes glimpses of preparations for the big show. This is really the only time spent on Martin Scorsese’s fretting and mugging, and he splits it with Mick Jagger and a gawking Bill and Hillary Clinton and their extended family and entourage. This opening portion is shown at the size of a conventional movie screen, which is a lame gimmick, because you’ve paid the full IMAX price and you know it’s got to expand to full size sooner or later before there’s an audience revolt. Of course it finally does, just as the Stones take the stage. Then it’s a very big and satisfying picture, and from that point on it’s all concert footage, punctuated here and there by some historical clips, which are mostly fairly rare and entertaining.

The very best thing about seeing this movie in IMAX is the sound. There’s an array of speakers behind the screen, and a few more behind you, so the directionality is stunning. Better still, the music is mixed to highlight whatever is being shown onscreen at the moment, so that when Ron Wood is seen playing guitar, you hear Ron Wood’s guitar very distinctly. Offscreen keyboards, saxophone, and backup singers are also heard in clear detail. The drums and bass, however, could be sharper. There is a subwoofer, but not enough of it.

Visually, I would also like to see more of drummer Charlie Watts. There is plenty of great footage of Richards, and of course an abundance of shots of Mick Jagger — too many of which are tight closeups, which, because he is constantly moving so fast, can dissolve into blurry afterimages of where he used to be.

The performances are mostly very good, and sometimes outstanding. It’s hard to imagine how these 60-plus-year-olds have the energy to rock like they do early on during “She Was Hot.” Jagger is absolutely amazing. He switches from funny to demonic personas as the songs dictate, and although he exerts himself almost non-stop, he still has enough breath to sing fairly well, and with careful enunciation. (He is also cautiously skips the “who killed the Kennedys” line in “Sympathy for the Devil,” and the “black girls” line in “Some Girls.”)

Guest performances by Jack White (“Loving Cup”) and Christina Aguilera (“Live With Me”) are great, but Buddy Guy‘s dominance on Muddy Waters’ “Champagne and Reefer” is so overpowering that Richards finally just surrenders his guitar to him.

Witnessing all of this rock wattage in New York’s intimate Beacon Theatre is a crowd that seems like a room full of hired extras. Scorsese says the movie is all taken from the second night — the night that was not a Clinton Foundation fundraiser — but the audience we see still seems like a pack of A-list posers. You wonder if they have any idea who Buddy Guy is.

Some of the viewers in the theater with us seemed puzzled when the closing credits noted that the film was dedicated to Ahmet Ertegün, whose backstage fall at the first of these two shows led to his death. If you ever get the chance, watch the American Masters profile of him, Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built, which correctly names him “the greatest record man of all time.”

Shine a Light delivered what I hoped it would. It’s definitely worth the price of an IMAX admission ($13.50).


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