Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Shine A Light

A haunting film about the ravages of age

In 2006 The Rolling Stones performed for two nights in the Beacon Theatre in New York. Some bloke named Scorsese was there to film them, assembled the footage with some archive stuff and here is the result.

Part documentary and part it's own making-of, Shine A Light is primarily a concert film, and a bloody great one it is too. The Stones are on top form and deliver great performance after great performance all of which is caught by Scorsese's cameras that, whilst omnipresent, never feel intrusive. There's a real sense of intimacy to the film that you don't usually get when you see footage of the band performing live and this really helps to present the sheer energy and presence that they exude on stage.

It's also great to get a sense of the personalities of the band members (Mick, consummate showman; Keith, not all there but hilarious; Ronnie, strong, silent type; Charlie, sly and sardonic) and to see that even after 40-odd years they still enjoy performing and are still very good at it. Their unfettered exuberance is infectious and even though I initially thought the sight of Mick Jagger running about the stage was unintentionally hilarious by the end of the concert I thought it was the most natural and brilliant thing ever. The film also features some great collaborations with Jack White, Buddy Guy and Christina Aguilera, all of whom just about manage to keep up.

The documentary aspect of the film is fairly minimal and only really amounts to some archive footage that is edited in between songs. These are occasionally insightful, almost always hilarious (particularly the juxtaposition of a young Mick Jagger saying that the band may have ''another year in them'') and once in a while they manage to be both (Charlie Watts talking about his insecurities as a drummer). I had perhaps been hoping for more footage and insight into the band, particularly considering the astounding job that Scorsese did on his Dylan documentary 'No Direction Home', but what little there is manages to achieve quite a lot and acts as a nice little break from the performances.

For all the great things about Shine A Light, I don't think it could be called a definitive live document of the Rolling Stones; the running joke during the opening preamble about no one being able to decide on a tracklist for the shows indicates how vast their back catalogue is and not everyone will be satisfied with the tracks that do appear since everyone has their favourite. The archive footage also makes one wonder if perhaps the film would have been better if it had been made 30 years ago when the Stones were really in their prime. Not that they can't deliver the goods now, there's just a sense that there's a gulf between the band we see in grainy black-and-white and full living colour that the film never truly addresses.

However, the fact of the matter is that Shine A Light is still a great performance from a group of guys who do what they do best. Could probably have benefited from an increased emphasis on the documentary aspect but apart from that I'd say that this is pretty much essential for Rolling Stones fans, though I'm not sure what non-fans would get out of it.