Scorsese, too, is no longer a youngster with time on his hands and something to prove. At 66, he is one of the world’s most recognised, respected and busy filmmakers. Crucially, though, he carries with him the kudos from when rock collided with film in the 1970s, when ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ introduced De Niro’s entrance in ‘Mean Streets’ (1973) and Bob Dylan played for his camera in ‘The Last Waltz’ (1978). It’s that kudos, more than anything else, that Scorsese brings to ‘Shine a Light’. He’s a safe pair of hands for a band as aware as ever of their image while appearing not to care about anything so un-rock’n’roll as public relations.
The point being: all Scorsese has to do is switch on the camera, stress the age-old Stones-Scorsese alchemy,let the band play, insert the odd clip from ‘Charlie is My Darling’ and other docs, and his job is done. This is a superior concert film, no more, no less, blessed with the nod from Scorsese that makes it more than another tour film.
Scorsese knows his special place in this act of collusion and so gives himself a role as an equal to the band despite his pretending to be subservient to their crazy whims. We see him stressing about the set-list and standing at the stage-door but all this does is put the spotlight on him even more. And if the Stones can call on guests to join them on stage (Buddy Guy, Jack White, Christina Aguilera), so can he: he hauls in a bunch of heavyweight camera guys to help him film the two-night, smallish gig at New York’s Beacon Theater that makes up most of this film. They include Robert Elswit, who shot ‘There Will Be Blood’, and Emmanuel Lubezki, who works with Terrence Malick. Thankfully, we don’t have to watch Scorsese bash bums with Lubezki as Jagger does with Aguilera.
What the Stones still do well is play live. The band give it their all, with Mick bouncing and contorting through the gig and Keith proving to be a living one-man finger-up to medicine. But what do we learn? That Mick’s in charge but not against letting Keith stagger through a solo. That Mick wishes Charlie Watts would dress a bit more rock (he loosens the zip of Watts’ top as they take a bow). That Mick spends a lot of time at the gym, judging by the stomach he shows off. That Keith looks like a tramp with a brilliant dentist. And that, all in all, these guys can put on a damn good show even if it’s left to archive and a meet-and-greet with the Clintons to entertain us beyond the music.
Let’s face it: sexagenarians – even Keith Richards – probably don’t do that much after a gig other than sleep. Which doesn’t make for great cinema. And so Scorsese has made a wise choice to rely on live gigs and past glories. It doesn’t make for anything like his rich Dylan film, ‘No Direction Home’, but it allows for a stylish, intimate concert film for fans.