Shine a Light
Starring the Rolling Stones
Directed by Martin Scorsese
True to the proverb that a rolling stone gathers no moss, the world’s oldest rock band has continued to seduce, sashay, preen, record, trot out old hits and defy the notion that rock has a past freshness date.
And what better man to memorialize the still-kicking Rolling Stones than Martin Scorsese, a spark plug of infernal energy himself, whose creative fire still burns white hot.
Shine a Light is Scorsese’s documentary on an eternal rock band whose music has often papered his own films. Scorsese’s second feature, Mean Streets used the Stones to add a luster of bad boy sexual braggadocio to his penny-ante punks. The Stones have continued to serve Scorsese well, their music backmasking his dark tales of machismo run amok and the dark allure of crime.
Though in essence a concert film, Shine a Light opens behind the scenes as Scorsese frets the details of the Stones’ concert play list. Unfazed by Scorsese’s panicky energy, the Stones rehearse for a 2006 concert at the 1929 Beacon Theatre, a setting that is its own shout-out to old school. Regarding the miniature concert design, Mick Jagger jokes, “It looks like a doll’s house.” Like favorite comic book heroes returned for a rematch, the band’s all there: loosey-goosey Mick Jagger, petulant Charlie Watts, dark knight Keith Richards, and his buddy/acolyte Ron Wood.
Bill Clinton pops up at the rehearsal, nearly outshining the cool kids in this oddball detente between rock and political superstars. Handshakes are doled out, relatives are introduced, photos are taken. Clinton introduces his entourage, which includes the former president of Poland. The band members belie their bad boy image at such moments with courtly good manners even when greeting the little old ladies in Clinton’s entourage.
Despite these early black-and-white scenes, the film’s real impact comes in color footage of the Stones performing their music and the not-unimpressive sight of men well into their Viagra years, rocking out. The dark glamour of the band has settled into something more complex; their gaunt, hard-living etched faces now look like the kind you’d see clustered around a working class bar. At other times, dressed in sequined shirts, Jagger suggests an older dame trying to juice up her sex appeal with some flash.
Looking like nothing so much as a lollipop on a stick, elbows and knees akimbo, that pendulous, bobble head perched on a daffodil stalk body, Jagger scrolls through decades of classics: “Shattered,” “As Tears Go By,” “Far Away Eyes,” “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Satisfaction,” but also pairs up with new jack talent like Jack White of the White Stripes and a sex kitten Christina Aguilera, as well as bluesman Buddy Guy for a powerful duet of Muddy Waters’ “Champagne and Reefer.” One of the film’s best moments, both Jagger and Guy ooze sex and charisma.
Asserting their right to continue doing something they love, the band defies the popular notion that fun, cool, and rebellion age out. Early interviews with the band in their prime where they imagine still rocking into their sixties prove that age does not diminish one’s talents or creative drive, a notion backed up by another recent concert film, U2 3D.
The Rolling Stones still rock. Their enthusiasm hasn’t dwindled, and that in itself is a remarkable thing. A tribute to staying power, both to the Stones’ and undoubtedly also Scorsese’s, the film is more a fan’s-eye-view of the band in performance rather than Scorsese’s chance to wow with his auteur chops.
“The weird thing is, we love what we do,” says Richards. Shine a Light makes you believe it.
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