By A.K. Tucker
“Shine a Light” is the product of an amazing collaboration: that of renowned director Martin Scorsese and the legendary Rolling Stones. “Shine a Light” has enough substance to satisfy devoted fans and casual observers alike. In fact, this film will stand as a monument to one of the premier concert bands of all time.
For this project, Scorsese assembled an impressive camera crew featuring Oscar winners such as Andrew Lesnie and John Toll. The documentary blends two of the Stones’ concerts from their “A Bigger Band Tour” of 2006.
Set in New York City’s famous Beacon Theater, the film features a dream set of 19 songs blended seamlessly from performances on Oct. 29 and Nov. 1. Scorsese does an excellent job of capturing the Stone’s exceptional style and electrifying energy. The concert footage is interspersed with interviews of band members spanning the course of their musical careers. At one point, a young, smooth-faced Mick Jagger is asked if he can see himself performing like he does at the age of 60. “Yeah,” replies young Mick.
“Shine a Light” begins by depicting the chaos behind the show, ranging from the massive project of assembling equipment to a frantic Scorsese attempting to obtain the concert’s set list shortly before the show starts.
In a different room, Jagger and Richards flip through lists of songs rated from “well known” to “little known” and confer in hushed tones. Back to Scorsese having a short discussion about special flash lighting effects.
Scorsese protests, “We can’t burn Mick Jagger!” A group of Clinton family and friends arrive, and meet the band before the show. The theatre fills up and the lights dim. After an introduction by Bill Clinton, the music takes off with a blast of energy and passion characteristic of Stone’s concerts over the decades. The Stones launch into “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” followed by Shattered and She Was Hot. Other artists join the band to lend their talents. A smiling Jack White of The White Strips steps in with his electric acoustic guitar and joins Jagger front and center for “Loving Cup.” Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy adds his guitar and voice to Muddy Waters’ “Champagne and Reefer,” which takes on aspects of a jam with each band member in turn, including Jagger on harmonica. Christina Aguilera alternately purrs and roars with Jagger in a raucous rendition of “Live with Me.”
During the show the band dabbles in other musical styling. Jagger introduces “As Tears Go By” as a song that was kind of embarrassing. In fact, this song is widely believed to be the first song that Jagger and Richards composed together. Marianne Faithful’s 1964 recording of “As Tears Go By” was a hit. The tongue in cheek countrified “Far Away Eyes” features Ron Wood on a steel pedal guitar. Keith Richards sets down his guitar and dons a long black coat to provide lead vocals for “You Got the Silver.”
”Shine a Light,” especially in IMAX, captures the excitement and essential energy of the Stones’ concert performance. The artful cinematography captures an array of perspectives and the songs are performed with sincerity and force. On stage, the Stones are expressive, exuberant and they passionately share their music experience with the audience. Contrasted with interview clips in which they display differing levels of cooperation, it becomes clear that their performances tell you far more about the Rolling Stones than any interview will.
This admittedly young viewer watched the movie with two members of the Stone’s generation as companions. These two remembered watching the Stones’ periodically stun the world with their flip attitude and wanton ways; the Stones were vanguards of the sixties youth revolution. During the show, one of my companions informed me that she was reliving her childhood to the tunes while the other whispered “this was shocking, just shocking to the world” as Mick Jagger began his trademark dancing and swiveling. As the movie progressed, these two were not the only spectators that clapped as songs ended.