Shine a Light

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This review was written for the festival screening of "Shine a Light."

Out of Competition

BERLIN -- Martin Scorsese, a film director who has made his share of superb musical documentaries, shines a light on the world's most legendary and long-lasting rock band, the Rolling Stones, in "Shine a Light."

Shooting for two nights at concerts in New York's intimate Beacon Theatre, Scorsese and an all-star cinematography crew capture the very essence of the Stones in performance -- the raw energy, slick musicianship, easy rapport with audiences and the way their individual personas have grown into appealing caricatures of their former bad-boy selves.

But at the end of a very long night, "Light" is simply another in a long line of Rolling Stones concert films. Scorsese, who painted a portrait of an era and its musicians in his great concert film "The Last Waltz" (1978) and explored the blues so movingly in his television series "The Blues" (2003), is content here to sit back and watch. Hard to blame him -- after all, it is the Stones -- but you do expect more from Scorsese. No one, except perhaps Clint Eastwood, knows music and movies better, so you want him to take a deep, long and, OK, celebratory look at the iconic rock band.

No dice. You've got a ticket to watch the Stones in concert so enjoy.

The film does not stand up to the current crop of music/concert films like "U2 3D," which brilliantly uses 3-D to show the Irish band in concert so as to encapsulate its relationship to its fans, each other and their own music, and "CSNY: Deja Vu," which hones in on the political connection Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young have to their music.

Scorsese makes peripheral and sporadic attempts to introduce a documentary flavor to the filmed concert. The movie opens with color and black-and-white footage of the preparation to shoot the concerts in the autumn of 2006 during the band's "A Bigger Bang" tour. The curious emphasis here seems to be on the missteps, frustrations and lack of communication as the film and rock cultures meet.

At one point, Scorsese is told about a potential fire danger of an effect involving Stones lead singer Mick Jagger. Scorsese actually says with a straight face, "We cannot burn Mick Jagger." No, you can't.

Then, pre-concert one night, the Clintons descend on to the stage — Hillary, Bill, family and guests. For jet-lagging Americans at the Berlinale, where the film opened the festival Thursday night, this is an almost surreal moment, as if post-Super Tuesday, the Clintons have somehow arrived cinematically in Berlin to scrounge up absentee ballots from local expats.

Once the concert gets under way, Scorsese cuts in ancient interviews with the Stones when they were all callow youths, interviews marked by the utter inanity of the questions and the near torpor of their answers.
Only two answers are interesting: On how he can still be standing, let alone playing great music, after a hard life of hard living, Keith Richards shrugs, "My luck hasn't run out yet." And to Dick Cavett's question many years ago about could he imagine doing rock concerts when he is 60, Jagger immediately replies, "Yeah, easily."

And that's it for the documentary section of the film.


Scorsese has cameras everywhere, with seemingly half of the American Society of Cinematographers membership — Stuart Dryburgh, Robert Elswit, Ellen Kuras, Declan Quinn and Emmanuel Lubezki among others — plus legendary Stones documentarian Albert Maysles ("Gimme Shelter") manning those cameras. He and editor David Tedeschi cut rhythmically from angle to angle as each song unfolds, catching the antics, attitudes and exuberance of the four band members and their musical compatriots onstage. Drop-by guests include Christina Aguilera, bluesman Buddy Guy and Jack White.

Predictably, Jagger and Richards dominate the stagecraft as drummer Charlie Watts and guitarist Ron Wood all but disappear into the set. Aging though they clearly are, these two still have that movie-star aura. And they still have great musical instincts onstage.

When you recall how articulate Richards was about music in Taylor Hackford's docu "Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll" (1987), you do wish Scorsese had put him on camera between shows to talk about the Stones. And Jagger has certainly done enough movies as an actor to have delivered some insights, so long as the questions are not inane.

But Scorsese just wants to hear the music and watch as the men transform back into boys.

SHINE A LIGHT
Paramount Vantage
Shangri-La Entertainment/Concert Promotions International
Credits:
Director: Martin Scorsese
Producers: Victoria Pearman, Michael Cohl, Zane Weiner, Steve Bing
Executive producers: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood
Director of photography: Robert Richardson
Art director: Star Theodos
Editor: David Tedeschi
Running time -- 120 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13

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