When I realized that Martin Scorsese's new rock doc Shine a Light chronicles two Stones concerts from 2006, I was slightly disappointed. Don't get me wrong: I devour rock documentaries (Scorsese's The Last Waltz is one of my faves), and I love me some Rolling Stones. But I've never had much interest in seeing the band live in its modern incarnation (or in paying the high-ticket price for a stadium show). But Shine a Light makes me realize I was sorely mistaken. The modern-day Stones are well worth seeing live, and after screening this movie in its full IMAX glory, I feel like I have.
With camera work conducted by a team of Oscar winners, Shine a Light covers two nights of benefit shows at New York's Beacon Theatre. Like its concert-film forebears (Woodstock, Rattle and Hum), Scorsese's two-plus-hour odyssey is comprised mostly of performance footage. There are, however, archival clips sprinkled in, as artfully chosen as the intimate moments captured by Scorsese's crowd of cameras. For the details,
The concert, like the Stones' career, careens through different phases, from flashy hip-shaking numbers to pedal-steel-infused country tunes. The set list is mostly stellar, though oddly, there is no footage of the Stones performing the namesake tune. Seeing the legends up close, you realize how much the Stones truly love what they do, and the archival footage suggests a common theme: From the beginning, the most commonly asked question of the band was, how long do you think you'll do this? The impossibly spry Mick Jagger, who somehow still has the figure of a 25-year-old hipster, continues to prove his doubters foolhardy.
Unlike The Last Waltz, which is a movie about a concert and a band, Shine a Light is merely a film of a concert. Aside from some bland footage of Scorsese and the Stones setting up, there's very little behind-the-scenes access. And while The Last Waltz stood out for its cameos — a parade of legendary performers who influenced The Band — this documentary tepidly imitates that trope. Buddy Guy adds to the entertainment, but Christina Aguilera and Jack White don't even look like they think they deserve to be there.
But as a chronicle of a concert, the movie succeeds, particularly when capturing quiet moments you'd miss as an audience member: a flirtation between Jagger and his backup singer, a lingering, pensive shot of Guy resting between beats, and the Pirates of the Caribbean brooch on Keith Richards' lapel. Honestly, seeing this movie on an IMAX screen with a stellar sound system was so much like the real thing that I occasionally had to glance around to make sure it wasn't the movie audience roaring with applause. Shine a Light is the closest I'll ever come to seeing an intimate Stones concert, and thankfully, it's all I'll need.
Photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures