Scorsese's new film: an early look
Read Time Out's early review of Martin Scorsese's new Rolling Stones concert film, 'Shine A Light'
Martin Scorsese presented the world premiere of his new documentary about the Rolling Stones at the Berlin Film Festival last week and it was everything you would expect from a hugely successful director with little time and much money in his hands when coupled with a hugely successful band with little time and much money in their hands: slick, impressive, unsurprising, and to the point. It's also a hell of a lot of fun.
If you're a fan of the Stones, you won't be disappointed by Scorsese's film. If you're curious, you might even be won over to their charms; if you're not a fan, you may be bored to tears. Many viewers will savour the comedy – planned and unintentional – of these dedicated performers still strutting their stuff. They will marvel too at the flatness of Jagger's stomach as he repeatedly flicks his T-shirt to reveal his navel to the crowd. Personally, I wish he wouldn't do that; it's almost as disturbing as watching him bash bums with Christina Aguilera, who joins him on stage for a grinding rendition of 'Brown Sugar'. (Amusingly, Jagger barely locks eyes with his other two guests, Buddy Guy and Jack White. There's nothing like a stereotype living up to its name.)
Scorsese filmed 'Shine a Light' during a benefit gig for the Clinton Foundation at New York City's Beacon Theater over two nights at the end of 2006. Admittedly, the resulting movie is little more than a concert film plus a little contextual topping and tailing and the odd dash of archive footage of the band playing and being interviewed over the years, much of which, such as Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood being interviewed by Chris Evans on TFI Friday, is very funny. This concentration on live performance may disappoint anyone who is looking for some real investigative work or hoping to spend some time with the band away from the stage and the glare of the audience. Apart from a few shots of Jagger on the phone with Scorsese planning the film and then flying in a private jet and musing over the set-list, pretty much the entire film runs from when they play the first bars of 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' and strum the last of 'Satisfaction' about 90 minutes later.
There is a hokey preamble in which Scorsese frets a little about not being given the gig's set-list in time to plan the film – but you shouldn't believe a word of it. More entertaining is the meet-and-greet session during which Keith Richards charms Hillary Clinton's mum with a growling 'Hello Dorothy!' and Charlie Watts rolls his eyes into the air as if he's done this sort of thing a million times (and he probably has).
Jagger is the boss. It's Jagger who we follow the most on stage. It's Jagger who is happy to play along with Marty's flight of fiction about a missing set-list. It's Jagger who throws Keith a disapproving look when his singing is awful. And, yes, it's Jagger who reaches over to loosen the zip on Charlie Watts's jacket when he attempts to take a final bow at the end of the gig looking a little too much like a sound engineer.
And how do they sound? Pretty damn good to my ears. No, Jagger's voice isn't as good as it was, and Keith Richards shouldn't be let near a microphone for his one solo attempt which, frankly, is a bit embarrassing. It's too easy to rip the hell out of the Stones (collective age, somewhere around 260) and I'm not going to join that chorus even if the band seem to ask for it time after time. They sound good, they still look alright, and most importantly they appear to be a band that still love what they do after four decades.
It's that passion that even leads me to forgive Keith Richards his sloppy playing. He's doing what he loves and, from where I'm sitting, without an ounce of cynicism. Jagger, I suspect, is more conniving, more wily in his choices – even to do this film. But it's not at all painful spending two hours with them on stage. And when Scorsese insists on getting right up close with these four pensioners shot after shot after shot, that's really saying something.
Author: Dave Calhoun
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