April 03, 2008

Shine a Light

Stop stealing my pose.

Grade: C +
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ron Wood
MPAA Rating: PG

Running Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes

Performance and dialogue are important in assessing any movie, but no genre is more tethered to the identity of its performers than the concert film. Lyrics replace script and the soundtrack graduates from accoutrement to a lead character, channeled through vessels who, while not exactly actors, are nonetheless the very definition of entertainers.

That is just a fancy way of saying that if you like the band or singer, you are probably going to like their concert movie. The history of cinema is littered with films that transcend the genre, and two of them involve the subjects at the heart of Shine a Light – the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter and Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, the director’s soaring documentary about the rock group The Band.

Now, both of these aging icons team up to present Shine a Light, culled from shows performed by the Rolling Stones on two nights in 2006 at New York City’s intimate Beacon Theater. Noting Scorsese’s predilection for using Stones’ music in his movies, Mick Jagger has remarked in interviews that this may be the only Scorsese film that does not include the song “Gimme Shelter.”

A brief opening, presented in color and black-and-white, peruses Scorsese’s hectic efforts to prepare for production, from the stage design to hand-wringing over the constantly changing set list. Bill and Hillary Clinton – and Bill’s mother – show up for a meet-and-greet. Soon, however, the film settles into a fluid, handsomely photographed (thanks, as always, to Scorsese’s longtime cinematographer Robert Richardson), yet rather pedestrian rock-doc.

Here’s the rub: with the exception of welcome interludes of archival media footage of the band throughout past decades, the rest of the film consists of performances that by now, like the Grateful Dead before them, illuminate the Stones’ longevity and iconography more than their musical merit. A disclaimer: while I am a sucker for a rousing rendition of “Brown Sugar” and “Satisfaction” (the last two songs performed in the film), I have never been much of a Stones’ devotee. Their musical styling has always been a bit clangy and cacophonous, and even laidback number like “Far Away Eyes” is more a snarky country music spoof than homage. When Buddy Guy joins the band for the Muddy Waters’ “Champagne & Reefer,” it just drives home, by comparison, what a truly great musician and vocalist really sounds like.

Of course, if you are a Stones’ fanatic, you will probably find yourself enraptured with songs both familiar – “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – and less well-known – their up-tempo cover of The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination.” And, Jagger can still preen, prance, and gyrate across a stage even at age 62. But, at just over 2 hours long, Shine a Light has its plentiful share of dead spots, including two lead vocal numbers from Keith Richards and separate Jagger duets with Christina Aguilera and The White Stripes’ Jack White.

While wonderfully photographed by 18 different cameras, most of the concert film could have been cobbled together by your average 20-something music video director. The audio mix is superb, but technically speaking, the film does not hold a candle to the recent U2 3D. Scorsese’s idea of edgy is footage that leers at Aguilera’s spandex-wrapped legs.

With performers and a director past their prime, the song “Start Me Up” comes far too late in Shine a Light, both literally and metaphorically. The documentary showcases a band valiantly rebelling against Father Time. Unfortunately, many audiences will just find themselves constantly checking their watch.

Neil Morris

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was soooo dissaponiting to see my dear Stones hooking up with Bill….One thing that I admired them for was the lack of main stream political agenda. I guess that they joined all these cliches that we see around, and it is almost heart-breaking. I wonder whose idea was this. As they are, they definetely didn’t need Bill to improve their ratings, why did they allow to be used in this political race? Why, Mick? Why, Keith? This is the first time that I am not going to buy your DVD…