Shine A Light

Shine A Light

***1/2

Reviewed by: Chris

Take some lyrics:

1. "May the good lord shine a light on you. Make every song your favourite tune"

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2. "You call yourself a Christian, I call you a hypocrite. You call yourself a patriot, well I think you're full of shit."

Both are recent songs by the Rolling Stones. A 1960s rock and roll group. (Band members are now in their sixties.)

Verse 2 is from an anti-Bush song called Sweet Neo Con. An interesting point from which to start a movie, perhaps. Veteran director Martin Scorsese even chooses a concert at which democrat Bill Clinton is in attendance. But the song, even though part of the tour, is missing. This film has no hidden agenda or meaning. Sweetness and Light. Shine A Light.

If you are a current fan of the Stones, such details matter little. This is a concert film (at the New York Beacon Theatre) to die for. Production values are far better than any comparable TV live event. A concert to enjoy in surround sound, in a comfortable theatre, with every detail up close on a big screen (or even IMAX). Not a film about lyrics. Not a documentary about these extraordinary long careers. Just a big, brilliant concert.

It rather feels as if the Stones hired the best filmmaker in the business. Who in turn hired the best cinematographers. Who in turn capture every dramatic gesture. Every Mick Jagger mince. Every crowd-pleasing wave. Each impressive guitar riff, each colourful stage contrast, each theatrical burst of light. Everything. Except film fans may struggle and ask, "But isn't this supposed to be a Martin Scorsese film?"

When Scorsese did Bob Dylan (No Direction Home), his achievement was in the insights into a complex man. His film resolved the eternal conflict between Dylan's public personas. Shine A Light, on the other hand, offers no such insight into the stars concerned, beyond the current state of their stage performance (impressive though it is).

There are some nice cinematic touches. It is fun watching Scorsese in front of the camera in the opening scenes. He worries about getting a specific playlist, so he knows whether to be ready for a guitar solo or singer acrobatics. This helps us understand the complexity of filming a live event. The question of the band's age, instead of being disguised, is cleverly made a feature. Scorsese intersperses Beacon Theatre sets with vintage black and white footage of frequent interview questions relating to age. "Can you imagine doing this when you're 60?" and so on. I wince. I had qualms about watching these pensioners prance about on stage. A fan of their early music, I instinctively feel rock stars should die (or at least retire) before they get old. But blues singers look cool old. Why not the Rolling Stones? Keith Richards looks positively cadaverous. A Munster with a mean guitar. And the Rolling Stones are considered chic both by baby boomers and trendy young well-to-dos. Long gone are the days when buying a Stones album was an act of defiance.

But in spite of the unused Neo Con lyrics and Jagger's single use of the F word in the whole concert, fans seem more concerned that Richards actually smokes a cigarette. A girl in the audience points disapprovingly. The Stones are mainstream. Bill Clinton hails their green credentials. Everyone is lovey-dovey. Much of the concert features impressive showmanship and a high level of professionalism. Jagger never misses a note. The guitar-work is beautiful. And as a role model for pensioners, Jagger's routine is more energetic than any step class. But where was the angst? The blinding energy that seared itself into the brains of Sixties youth? This was a very a different band. I try to forget the old one. I enjoy the toothless new one more than I like to admit.

Shine A Light is a time capsule. The latter years of the most famous rock and roll band in the world. A great British institution preserved for posterity. (It was released the day after Gordon Brown's jovial and equally polished tele-appeal on American Idol.)

Well-chosen guest artists spring into sets. Jack White produces a perfect blend of young and old as he duets with Jagger. Christina Aguilera looks stunning in high heels and tights. How could she not fire up the old man? Jagger hugs her bum as they dance to Live With Me. He has new fire in him as he continues with Start Me Up. By the time he sings Brown Sugar, there is a passion to it. The audience wave and cheer in time. When Satisfaction ricochets through the hall it is like watching the legend. The Mick Jagger of old. I'm almost a convert.

Would it be cynical to say Sympathy For The Devil looked more like a Born-Again pageant? Unappreciative perhaps. The film lover in me would rather have Jean-Luc Godard's film of that title for a sense of the 'real' Rolling Stones. But why should audiences dictate that pop stars – or film directors for that matter – conform to expectation? Accept Shine A Light for the awesome concert film that it is. Miserable old sentimentalists go back to your vinyl. Your 'creative' cinema. There's not much of it here.

Reviewed on: 12 Apr 2008
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Documentary of the rock legends, with footage from their A Bigger Bang Tour.
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If you like this, try:

Sympathy For The Devil