Blues Travelers

Salt Lake City Weekly | March 31, 2008
As the career of the Rolling Stones creeps through its fifth decade, it’s possible to identify a number of consequences of their longevity. There are the gags about how long they can possibly go on, and how Keith Richards has survived his life of excess, gags that now feel older than the band members themselves. There’s the ever-more-impressive spectacle of Mick Jagger—neither his haircut nor his waist size having changed in 40 years—twisting and gyrating through two-hour shows with an energy that should shame rockers two generations younger. And Shine a Light itself confronts us with a unique question: Is there anything a Rolling Stones concert film can still reveal to us, even if it’s directed by Martin Scorsese?

For nearly as long as the Stones have been performing, filmmakers have been fascinated by them. The Maysles brothers most famously chronicled them in 1970’s Gimme Shelter, with its backdrop of the Altamont tragedy; Hal Ashby followed them for 1983’s Let’s Spend the Night Together. Even Shine a Light’s IMAX presentation isn’t new territory for the Glimmer Twins, as 1991’s Rolling Stones To the Max blew them up to giant size after their Steel Wheels tour. Seriously, does the world need yet another strutting rendition of “Satisfaction?”

For at least a little while in Shine a Light, it looks like Scorsese has found a unique meta-concert-film angle. The first 15 minutes of the film bounce around between the Stones’ rehearsals and Scorsese’s preparations for shooting the 2006 performances in New York City. Jagger leaves the director a phone message, worried about the cameras blocking the view of audience members; Scorsese lobbies for an early look at the set list so he can prepare coverage needs for his camera operators, and makes dark-humored jokes when told that bright lighting might “set [Jagger] on fire.” As we watch the band members good-naturedly schmooze with Bill and Hillary Clinton—the show was a benefit for the ex-president’s foundation—Shine a Light begins to hum with a singular vibe as a concert film that’s also a film about the making of a concert film.

That vibe, however, turns out to be short-lived. No sooner does Richards tear into the opening riff from “Jumping Jack Flash” than we’re squarely in the land of the conventional concert film. Yes, there’s the spectacle of Jagger’s prancing showmanship, and Richards’ perpetual chuckling at a joke only he appears to be in on, and Charlie Watts churning away at the drums until a break finally allows the 65-year-old to gasp for breath. And it feels like we’ve been here before.

But as the set list unfolds, Shine a Light begins to take on another distinctive flavor. It’s not just the deep album cuts that make the cut, like “Loving Cup” (on which Jack White joins Jagger for a duet) or “Far Away Eyes.” Those familiar with the Stones catalogue might quickly figure out not a single song from the last 25 years is part of this performance—and while that choice might easily lend the show a greatest-hits nostalgia sensibility, that’s not the feel that emerges. Intermingling archival interview footage with the bluesier album cuts, Scorsese evokes the Stones’ history as simple lads who stumbled into the designation as “the world’s greatest rock and roll band,” but who actually trace their roots back to R&B. When Dick Cavett asks in a 1972 interview whether Jagger can see himself still doing this when he’s 60, the singer’s affirmative answer makes perfect sense when considering that we never ask bluesmen like B. B. King when they’re going to hang it up.

It’s ironic, given that perspective, that Shine a Light at times still feels like an attempt to serenade the Stones into the sunset, what with the guest appearances by White, Christina Aguilera and Buddy Guy. Scorsese has already done the “farewell show” thing with The Band’s The Last Waltz, and he’s not going to find something quite that rich here. But he has actually found something new to add to the Rolling Stones’ considerable concert-film history, a history that isn’t quite ready for its final chapter yet. Perhaps that should be “Satisfaction” enough.


*** (three out of four stars)


Featuring the Rolling Stones

Directed by Martin Scorsese

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