For nearly 50 years, The Rolling Stones have defined rock 'n' roll music for many of us. After all, they've been playing music longer than 70 percent of the current U.S. population has been alive.
Out of respect to the professional code of ethics for journalists, I'll go ahead and disclose the fact that I'm a fan of the band. But if you think you're about to read paragraph after paragraph about the greatness and/or significance of this band and the importance of Martin Scorsese's Shine a Light, think again.
On the surface, Shine a Light can be taken as an ordinary concert film. Aside from the brief use of vintage interview clips interspersed throughout the picture and roughly 15 minutes of pre-concert footage that some will regard as pointless, once those first notes for the various shows' opener "Jumping Jack Flash" are struck, the music takes over. In fact, for anyone who's seen the band live, it might also appear as if there's nothing extraordinary about this particular concert, especially if you're like me and have only experienced the band live since they picked up touring again in the late 1980s. Mick Jagger struts and postures like only he can do, Keith Richards has his usual wicked charisma and guitar licks, Ronnie Wood is simply having a great time, and drummer Charlie Watts, well, he's just being good ol' Charlie, always steadfast and forever stoic. At one point, Richards even throws out the now-famous line to the audience that's been heard before, "It's good to see you all. Well, really, it's good to see anybody!" And the usual cast of supporting characters that fans have embraced as extended family for years are all here, too -- Chuck Leavell (keys), Bobby Keys (saxophone), Lisa Fischer (backing vocals) and Darryl Jones (bass), among others. The sing-alongs for "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Brown Sugar" are all there, too.
But once you take the time to understand what's really going on -- the fact that you're sitting in a theater watching this band play these songs that are featured on the personal soundtracks of so many of our lives (and under the direction of Academy Award winner Martin Scorsese, to boot) -- you can't help but recognize and possibly even appreciate the magnitude of what The Rolling Stones have become.
As clichéd as the preconcert footage may seem, its relevance could be in the fact that it plays to what we've always thought of in regards to a band as hugely recognizable as the Stones. Jagger is portrayed as the tireless leader with the weight of all the details and decisions resting solely upon him, while Richards and Woods are shown kicking back, relaxing over a round of pool.
The rock star ego remains intact and can be seen as Jagger complains about stage production details that he originally requested and then continues to try and change things in the days leading up to the concerts. (The film was shot over a series of shows performed at New York's Beacon Theater.) Scorsese appears to nearly lose control as Jagger teases him for weeks with promises of producing a set list for the director, which he finally receives just as the band is about to take the stage.
The interview clips don't reveal anything we haven't seen or read before, but each serves as support for the characters and attitudes we've come to know. They also inject a bit of humor and irony into the film. In one instance, a very young Jagger notes that he's been able to perform for two years and hopes to at least be able to do it for another year or so. Another clip confirms how Jagger, despite the playboy persona, has always been a serious showman while Richards' role is more along the lines of the court jester. And in a split-screen interview, the two are asked what goes through their minds in the seconds leading up to a performance that will be seen by thousands. Keith wryly answers that he realizes it's time to wake up while Jagger inflicts a bit of self-scrutiny, hoping to just be able to put on a good show.
A good show is exactly what you get with Shine a Light. Just like their influences, the set list as well as their special guests straddle the lines between R&B, pop and rock 'n' roll. Blues guitarist Buddy Guy accompanies the band on the Muddy Waters song, "Champagne & Reefer," rock purveyor Jack White (of The White Stripes) duets with Jagger on "Loving Cup," and one of pop's most popular femmes, Christina Aguilera, performs "Live With Me" with Jagger (and, of course, they're both bursting with sexual energy).
Through the years, everything that has become The Rolling Stones is over the top: the hedonistic lifestyles they were once known for, the unbelievably large-scale concert tours, and so on. This film is no different. Scorsese employs an extraordinary team of acclaimed cinematographers to capture every moment of the show from every imaginable angle, and the songs run seamlessly together. Some of the shots often feel too large for even a theater screen -- at one point, you can see into Jagger's mouth so closely you notice his dental work -- but would we really settle for anything less than over the top?
Shine a Light doesn't offer anything groundbreaking in the world of film or, for that matter, the world of music. It won't win accolades for its presentation, but that's not what will make it relevant. The relevancy lies within the subject, which is the world's greatest rock 'n' roll band: The Rolling Stones.
For more photos from Shine a Light, go to www.theclogblog.com.