Shine a Light (Paramount, PG-13)

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It is fitting these artists are paired together. The world’s most important filmmaker documents the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.


Concert films, like pornography, are a nice diversion on a Tuesday afternoon but they never satisfy like the real thing on a Friday night. The latest offering in the genre, Shine a Light, unites two luminaries in their respective fields, The Rolling Stones and Martin Scorsese.

It is fitting these artists are paired together. The world’s most important filmmaker documents the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band. Scorsese has often used the Stones’ music in his movies. Each has mastered, combined, and transcended genres evolving their style, adopting wider influences, always maintaining the highest standards of craftsmanship. And simply these are the two most important artists in the two defining artforms of the twentieth century. It is only right they come together.

Adding to the expectations is that each have participated separately in the two most important concert films ever made. Gimme Shelter chronicled the Stones 1969 tour that culminated in the on camera stabbing of a man during the final date at the Altamont Speedway. Scorsese redefined the concert film with The Last Waltz a documentation of The Band’s final performance. Context becomes paramount in both these films. Not only is a man actually killed on screen in Gimme Shelter, the entire tour is recognized as a violent metaphor for the demise of the hippie ideal and the 60’s in general. The Last Waltz is not just another Band concert, but their final performance. There is the pageantry and sadness inherent in the closing of a chapter. Additionally The Band, who started as session musicians, supply an A-list roster of guests. And while not as definitive a note as Gimme Shelter, The Last Waltz is a swan song for the 70’s, by the time of its release Star Wars had changed movies and the punks were storming the popular music castle. The world was changing. Both these films benefit from history in a way most concert films cannot.

So with incredibly high expectations, Shine a Light hits screens. The result is a beautiful document of a joyful evening of music. The Stones provide a great show at the historic Beacon Theatre in New York. The venue is unusually small for the band and the audience includes President Clinton. The band digs deep into its catalogue providing a variety of moods for the night. The guests that join the icons on stage all serve a specific purpose. Jack White, dueting with Jagger spectacularly on “Loving Cup,” plays the part of the young turk living the dream of jamming with his heroes, showing the Stone as relevant and in touch. To prove the boys haven’t forgotten their roots, Buddy Guy joins for a rollicking cover of “Champagne & Reefer.” Mick proves he is still virile as he fondles and the inevitable bombshell Christina Aguilera. Throughout the night the Stones provide a mix of big hits, crowd pleasers, and solid performances.

Scorsese employs a battery of cameras manned by a crew featuring four academy award winning cinematographers, capturing the evening in a beautiful intimate portrait. The cameras provide the best seats in the house and Scorsese’s constant movement adds to the proceedings. He injects humor with a series of archival interviews focusing on 30 years of reporters asking the band members how long they think they can keep going. The sound mix is pristine, cleaner than most of the Stones’ first dozen albums and that is part of the sole problem with the movie. The immediacy of a live performance is missing. There is no way to ever convey the energy and excitement of a live concert. Scorsese’s shots, pacing, and lighting document the moment as perfectly as can be accomplished, but seeing The Rolling Stones live is an experience akin to skydiving, running a marathon, or a first kiss. Nothing can ever capture the raw nerve instant.

Scorsese has crafted an almost perfect concert film and the Bad Boys of Rock and Roll provide a lively intense performance, but you’re still better off clicking on the PLAYBACK:stl concert calendar tab, finding a good local band, and enjoying the genuine article. | Bobby Kirk

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