After giving respective credit to The Band in “The Last Waltz” and Bob Dylan in “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan”, Oscar award-winning director Martin Scorsese uses the camera to shine a directorially distinctive light on yet another of rock and roll’s musical giants, The Rolling Stones.
“Shine a Light” is a documentary that captures the unadulterated rhythm and blues driven intensity that is The Rolling Stones. Using live concert footage from a small and intimate venue setting in tandem with antique interview footage, Martin Scorsese was able to breathe directorial life into a band that simply had it coming.
The movie begins with both Scorsese and the Stones dealing with the planning stages of the show. The semi-fictionalized introduction sees the band trying to determine what songs to play and the director is figuring out the best way to use the proximity of the venue to capture the risqu’eacute; elegance that the band will undoubtedly bring to the show.
In its entirety, the film takes on more of a live concert experience rather than a straight forward documentary. The footage that makes up the main drag of the film is focused on two concerts that took place on October 29th and November 1st in 2006 at New York’s Beacon Theater during the Stone’s “A Bigger Bang Tour.”
In terms of depth and traditional documentary style, the use of candid scenes of comment and conversations between the famous guests, band members and the director give the movie a functional, raw vitality that perfectly complements the concert experience.
Scorsese utilizes certain historical news clips and archival interviews in between the songs to help give the audience an understanding of where the Stones came from and where they had been. There were not many used, but the few that he did use gave balance to the music that was played and gave depth to musicians that played them.
Musically speaking, the Stones were right on with every note they played. They started the set with a fast paced version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and then played a funky rendition of “Shattered.”
Most of the songs that are played in the movie are not what some might have expected to be played. Ironically, there is even reference in the film by Mick Jagger to the fact that this might be the only Scorsese movie that doesn’t feature the song “Gimmie Shelter.” However, the Stones do manage to play “Sympathy for the Devil” “Can’t Get No(Satisfaction)” and “Brown Sugar.” These are all songs that any Rolling Stones fan would want to hear.
The film also has a series of guest performers by artists such as Buddy Guy, Jack White, and Christina Aguilera. Artists seemed to be chosen for their ability to complement the sound or style that best illustrates the Stones.
All of the guest performances were good in their own right, but the most significant, musically speaking, is the collaboration with Buddy Guy on the song “Champagne and Reefer,” a cover song that was originally composed by Muddy Waters.
The Rolling Stones have always had a very blues oriented background. Their name came from a Muddy Waters tune, and to see and hear them perform a traditional blues song with a real blues man was more than what most Stones fans could ask for.
Since the film is mostly live concert footage, it was ideal to have seen this movie in an IMAX movie theater. Some movies are meant to be seen on large screens with surround sound quality, and this is one of them.
With a real concert-going experience at a stadium or an arena, there is usually a need to amp up the volume for those that had to buy seats in the nosebleed section, so most of the time the full range auditory sensation is never felt.
However, with a film like “Shine a Light,” Scorsese accounted for this fact with attention to aural detail. Every note of a song and every word of lyric could be perfectly heard and understood so that nothing was lost to the audience. Scorsese succeeded in making a concert-going experience available to all people for the price of a movie ticket.
At the end of the movie, directly following an encore performance of “Can’t Get No (Satisfaction),” the audience is put in the place of the band through the use of camera. The illusion of reality is set up by Scorsese being in every scene behind a staged camera directing the band on how to exit the venue.
All-in-all, this was a movie that really wasn’t a movie at all, but a way to watch an awe-inspiring band like the Rolling Stones shine a light on music from the past with very satisfying performances. This is a film that is definitely worth the time and admission price, especially if it is on IMAX. The Rolling Stones and Martin Scorsese are clearly a match that was meant to be.