Movie Review: Shine a Light: The IMAX Experience
By Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
The ads for the new Rolling Stones concert picture "Shine a Light" come at you like a three-way heavyweight title bout.
There's also an undeniably corporate air to the packaging: three well-known brands converging for an event, a concert by the Stones performed in 2006 at New York's Beacon Theatre, apropos of nothing except a chance to be captured for posterity for fun and profit, en route to the next tour stop. But who needs an excuse for a party? This one's a lot of fun. Director Martin Scorsese's "Shine a Light" does not capture a historic farewell, as did his own great 1978 tribute to The Band, "The Last Waltz," which stands with the best of the best ("Stop Making Sense" and "The T.A.M.I. Show" being two of my other favorite concert films). Scorsese's latest certainly does not aspire to anything comprehensive, or risky. There's no mention of Brian Jones' suicide, and some of the lyrics have been scrubbed to secure a PG-13 rating.
Look at it this way: "Shine a Light" is akin to paying for a very good seat at a Stones concert, and while some of us couldn't do that for real, even if we saved up, Scorsese's fond film - which, for the record, is not a 3-D project as was "U23D," but should be seen on an IMAX screen, if only to fulfill the destiny promised by the ads - is a stroll down memory lane, conducted by four men who know the way, and know how to make it vital.
As in "The Last Waltz," Scorsese interjects himself into the proceedings just enough to make it interesting. In the prologue we see the Stones jetting around from city to city - here's Jagger mulling a Beacon set list on his plane, there's Scorsese back in New York, freaking out about not having the set list yet. We're meant to think the whole affair, billed as a benefit for the Clinton Foundation (we see Bill and Hillary meeting and greeting the boys before the show), came together by the seat of its pants. These early scenes are shown in a reduced image on the IMAX screen; then, when the concert begins and Jagger hits the stage for "Jumpin' Jack Flash," boom, we get the full-screen IMAXimus impact.
Scorsese works with editor David Tedeschi and an all-star team of cinematographers led by Robert Richardson. (Richardson can never get enough pearly white light from above; in Scorsese's "Bringing Out the Dead," that visual strategy became a full-on gimmick.) The images in "Shine a Light" are pretty beautiful, and the collaborators do especially well bringing out the visual music of the duets. When Buddy Guy joins Richards for "Champagne & Reefer," the rhythm slows down, for good reason: You don't need a lot of cutting with faces this good. And, unexpectedly, when Christina Aguilera snuggles with Jagger on "Live With Me" (isn't she a little old for Mick?), they look and sound terrific together, a pair of self-made pop tarts baked generations apart.
Judiciously, Scorsese splices in interviews of Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts from the 1960s and '70s. In a chat with Dick Cavett (whom I always considered the lost member of the Stones), Jagger is asked if he sees himself doing what he's doing at age 60, and the reply is, "easily, yeah." "Shine a Light" is one of those lions-in-winter affairs, and Jagger, who has a body fat count of negative 67, can still dance like a maniacal popinjay, and Richards still looks like a satyr who has stayed up all night every night of his adult life.
At a tick over two hours "Shine a Light" lopes a bit, and you may roll your eyes at certain conceits, such as the front row of the Beacon being lined with women in their 20s, while the middle-aged schlubs are confined to the second balcony, well out of camera range. Jagger's take on "Satisfaction" sounds somewhat, uh, routinized by now. He probably has been satisfied once too often over the years, one way or another, to reconnect with that song's itchy rage. But these days, the Stones are about a different sort of satisfaction: surviving in style. Richards is the soul of the film, anyway. There's a deeper kind of joy in his leering (Geoff Boucher of the L.A. Times called Richards our "pirate laureate") than there is in Jagger's hopped-up gigolo act. Scorsese, another show business veteran, coming off his biggest commercial success ("The Departed") to date, keeps his cameras very close to all the crags in these glorious, well-traveled mugs. On an IMAX screen they look positively topographic.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language, drug references and smoking).
Running time: 2:02.
Starring: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood.
Directed by Martin Scorsese; photographed by Robert Richardson; edited by David Tedeschi; music by the Rolling Stones; concert sets designed by Mark Fisher; produced by Victoria Pearman, Michael Cohl, Zane Weiner and Steve Bing. A Paramount Classics release.