Saturday, 19 April 2008

[19] Shine a Light (dir. Martin Scorsese, 2008)

I'm not too happy with this, I might post a follow up at a later date with points I couldn't work into this piece (including the collaborations with Christina Aguilera, Jack White and Buddy Guy, which were all good, and Scorsese's innovative, yet not wholly successful manipulation of the sound mixing).

Blogger doesn't seem to want me to attach photos, but nevermind.


About two thirds of the way through Shine A Light, Martin Scorsese's camera glides over the heads of the audience, taking in the scene of the Rolling Stones banging out their time-honoured take on the blues. One audience member, shrouded in shadow, thrusts a digital camera into the air; for a second, the previously all-encompassing sound of the Rolling Stones dims, to be subsumed by an over-dubbed CLICK. This moment could speak volumes, of the concert experience, of the need to photograph and record every notable event in our lives, or of the curious novelty of a band in their sixties rocking with as much energy and enthusiasm as their musical grandchildren. Or it could be a brief moment of anarchic glee on behalf of Scorsese, lampooning the audience, who mostly stand still, nod their heads and take camera phone pictures for the majority of the concert.

It is the little moments, like this one, that elevate Shine a Light above a mere 'live concert film'. The performance, however, is damn exceptional. Drawing on both 'big' songs and some choice cuts from lesser-known albums, with a distinct focus on 1978's long-player Some Girls. Throughout these, Mick Jagger is on top form, putting current-generation indulgent frontmen to shame with his energy and physique. Despite Jagger's showmanship, the overall feel is surprisingly loose. Charlie Watts tackles his drumming duties with an air of self-effacing humour; he ends one song on a cymbal crash, before turning to the camera and giving an exaggerated sigh. Keith Richards seems at home in front of a crowd, and playfully sends up the occasion by chuckling through the backing vocals for 'Faraway Eyes', waltzing around the stage during the brilliant 'You Got the Silver' and approaching his riffs and licks from 'Live With Me', 'Satisfaction' and 'Sympathy for the Devil', which he must have played thousands of times, as if they were mere sketches for jams. Those expecting fidelity to the record, 40 years later, will be disappointed. Instead, Richards and Ron Wood play exactly like the 30-years-and-ongoing guitar duo they are. Solid, but by no means slickly professional. They're having fun, keeping the music fresh, with Richards often turning away from the audience to whisper in Wood's ear or to lean on his shoulder during a lead break. A perfect antidote to the ageing-rockstar backing group, consisting of 'Steely Dan Reject Keyboardist', 'Bassist with Beret', 'Powerful Diva Vocalist' and 'Sometimes Cheesy Sax Player' - they're great, mind you, they nail their respective parts, but with less-compelling bands, younger backing musicians merely highlight what is lacking (in this case: Bill Wyman, Ian Stewart, etc). Thankfully, the Rolling Stones are charismatic enough to hold your attention throughout this 2 hour film.

The much-referenced 'archive footage' is fantastic. However, it must be said that these snippets of television programmes and interviews do not take up more than 15-20 minutes of the film. This is not 'No Direction Home - The Stones'. It is a concert film, with every 2 or 3 songs being punctuated by short glances at the band's history. Not to take away from the stellar live performance, but these clips only remind the audience of what the film could have been. You will not leave the cinema any wiser about the band, you probably will not gain much insight into their personalities, beyond what you probably already know from Rock Folklore. Equally, the introduction merely tantalises, as Scorsese uses both staged and documentary footage of the preparation for the gig, showing tensions between Marty's neuroticisms and Jagger's distant and uncompromising demeanour. There are genuine laughs as Scorsese sends up Life As The Rolling Stones, as they are asked to meet-and-greet various guests for the gig, including Hillary Clinton's mother. Those accusing the film of being too servile and respectful should rewatch this segment for the surprisingly ironic sanitisation of 'The Biggest Rock Band in the World'.

Similarly, those complaining of the mostly middle-aged, mostly business class audience should get with the programme - to expect youthful, hip audiences at what amounts to a nostalgia-fest of 'prestige classic rock music' is severe self-denial. Hell, even my cinema was filled with people on the bad side of 50, with its own issues and problems. The tweens, teens and twenties were all watching Awake or Meet the Spartans next door. What is important, is that the Stones still got it. Speaking as a mild fan, with 4 studio, 1 live and 1 compilation album to his name, I enjoyed this. It's certainly the closest I'll get to a Stones concert this side of a gold card or hospitality package. The little glimpses are fun, transcendent and compliment the mood nicely. They hint at what could have been a briliant Stones documentary - but this is a concert film at heart. A great one at that.


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