Shine A Light (2008) dir. Martin Scorsese
“Shine a Light” is a collaboration of two great artists - those venerable golden aged rockers, the Rolling Stones and legendary director Martin Scorsese. We all know Scorsese’s a huge fan, he’s been using Stones songs in his films since “Mean Streets”. I mean has there ever been a more effective or exhilarating use of a pop song in film than Robert De Niro’s introduction as Johnny Boy set to “Jumping Jack Flash”? So it’s a natural teaming. Scorsese delivers to us a traditional concert film approach showcasing the current state of the band. The Imax format results in a phenomenally beautiful film to watch, unfortunately hampered by the fact that, well, the four lads don’t really play their music as well as they used to.
The film opens with some great behind the scenes prep work. It’s New York City and the Stones are playing a benefit concert in the relatively small Beacon Theatre for Bill Clinton and bunch of other of his invited guests. We get to see Scorsese, Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood, Charlie Watts and Keith Richards awkwardly hobnob with Bill, Hillary, Hillary’s mom and the former President of Poland.
The conflict of the needs of Scorsese and the needs of the Stones provides some great off the wall moments. At one point one of the technicians tells Marty that the lights above Mick are so hot if he stands under one of them for more than 18 secs he’ll catch on fire. Gotta love Bob Richardson and his hot lights!
As far as the music goes, I don’t think anyone’s expecting to hear some great music-ship. Keith Richards' guitar work is sloppy at times and some of Mick Jagger’s singing is downright terrible. He is helped by backup vocals on almost every track, but I really wished someone would shoot the horn section – especially during “As Tears Go By”. The first two tracks are barely listenable. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is rushed and Jagger literally talks its lyrics – barely resembling what was heard in that great scene in “Mean Streets”. “Shattered”, the second song is even more terrible. After that the Stones finally step it up. A lesser-known hit, “She Was Hot”, finally kicks it up a notch, and Jagger’s duet with Jack White sounds great. In fact, White’s twangy vocals sound uncannily like a young Mick Jagger. The best song in the bunch is the aforementioned, “As Tears Go By” a rarely played early Stones hit.
Much of the humour comes from the archival footage of the Stones over the years. The British media reporting on the activities of the Stones, in their typically snooty British fashion is pathetic and hilarious.
The real reason to watch "Shine a Light" is the third artist collaborating on the film – the great DOP and genuine cinema-artist Robert Richardson. As expected the Imax format gives us phenomenally pristine image (think, the difference between SD and HD). Much of the behind the scenes prep time showcase the work of Richardson in lighting up the stage which will help 'shine the best light' on the Stones as possible. Richardson's unique look transfers well to the concert documentary format. In fact, take time to look at the list of additional camera operators in the final credits. You'll see a roll call of the best DOPs working in cinema today - Robert Elswit, Emmanuel Lubezki, John Toll, Ellen Kuras.
This is a testament to the importance of the Rolling Stones in popular culture and Martin Scorsese's undying reverence for them. Sure they are old, and can't play their instruments as well as they used to, but they still command the best artists in the world to work with them.
"Shine a Light" looks amazing on Blu-Ray disc - available now from Paramount Home Entertainment