Shine A Light

Director    Martin Scorsese
Starring    Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood, Martin Scorsese
Release    4 APR (US) 11 APR (UK)    Certificate 12A
3 stars


17th April 2008

Martin Scorsese's long-running love affair with music - first cemented with The Last Waltz, confirmed with Bowie's best ever role in After Hours and the Dylan documentaries - becomes flesh with Shine A Light. Ostensibly a recording of a Rolling Stones concert in New York, Shine A Light is actually an unwitting comedy classic.

There were guffaws at the screen from the mostly middle-aged audience. Laughs come from every outrageous archive interview statement from a po-faced Keef Richards; every bizarre haircut from the age style forgot with Sir Michael Philip "Mick" Jagger; every craggy faced grimace from the band as they trade out Ancient Rock Riffs; or Jagger as he pouts and preens as a sexagenarian, jogging around the stage like a walkin' talkin' rock and roll cliché. He jumps, preens and pouts, an old man playing a young man's game - in short, he looks absolutely fucking ridiculous. If this film has a message or a moral, it's this: nothing looks stupider than trying to look younger than you are, rock star or not.

On the big screen, the lens of fame magnifies and distorts all things to a set of simple caricatures. Keef swaggers. Keef kneels. Keef, self-consciously aware of his mythology, reverts to type, jiggles the way you expect him to, and plays the role of Keef Richards, Aging Rock Star as he passes a guitar pick to yet another pretty girl in the front row. You suspect that this film isn't so much a documentary or a concert film, but an obviously fictionalised version of a Rolling Stones concert. Clearly staged shots and impossible CGI sweeps break the moment and drag the viewer out of the feeling and into the realm of cinema. Shouldn't the tunes be enough?

But there's more to it than that. The list of cinematographers are a Who's Who of the best camera guys in the world (boasting a mountain of Oscars between them) and they make Shine A Light a visual feast of wrinkles. There's also a subtle and effective underpinning of the concert footage with deftly chosen archive interview footage - seemingly chosen to evoke laughter at the very stupid bombast of rock - and the picture is book-ended by mini documentaries into the Tap-esque world of fame.

This is what fame is like, Charlie Watts makes clear with his subtle glances and interaction with the camera. After meeting the Clintons, he is clearly dismayed to then meet an extended selection of Clinton hanger-ons, third cousins twice removed and pose for photos with near enough everyone in the entire city. Jagger manipulates the situation to discuss the minutiae of the set-list (but what a set-list), the positioning of the stage, the exact number of seconds he can stand under a spotlight before receiving retina damage. Jagger is a deeply cynical yet astute businessman whose job is to be a high-speed musical performance athlete. With $437,000,000 riding on the tour this film is culled from, it's clear that Jagger, Richards, Watts and the lesser-seen Skeletor of Ronnie Wood all exist in this moment solely for the purpose of being documented on camera.

(What is also apparent is that there are no fat, old, or male Rolling Stones fans. Aside from Bill Clinton. Clinton, incidentally, still wears a suit to rock out. Never trust a man in a suit.)

Oh yes, the music. None of it is under 25 years old, apart from a couple of cover versions. The ragged (but immaculately mixed) soundtrack sees the band attempting once again to preserve themselves on film. Fundamentally, this film paints The Stones as much better than they actually are, viewing them under the uncritical eye of a fan and setting them as unquestionable modern heroes. With Shine A Light, Scorsese has missed the opportunity to present a modern day Cocksucker Blues that would reveal the true machinations of the band, in favour of a glossy, wrinkles-and-all set that takes the modern concert film and films it as one would a multi-camera action sequence. Shine A Light remains a must for Stones fans (which is just about everyone, surely) but you do have to be a fan of the band to see any worth in it. Seen as a comic reflection upon the absurdity of fame and the indignity of hard rocking pensioners, it's a sly comment of no small tragedy that perhaps has a greater meaning than ever intended. Mark

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