Shine a Light

Posted April 3, 2008 in Film

Let’s just call it out now. The Beatles were the better musicians; The Rolling Stones, superior performers. Which is why director Martin Scorsese’s documentary feels no more compelled to delve into the Stones’ music than aiming a dozen high tech cameras at New York’s Beacon Theatre and hoping they can keep up with Mick. Though Scorsese shot The Band in the 1978 classic The Last Waltz, he’s not a natural fit for the rock-out-cock-out genre. Scorsese’s too uptight even for soft jazz. Before the curtain rises on this Fall 2006 fundraiser (hosted by Bill Clinton), Marty’s banging his head on the control panel because Mick hasn’t figured out their opening song. (It’s the battle of the Alpha Artists.) But once the show kicks off, Marty and Bill evaporate like so much sweat off Mick’s happy trail, along with bits of fascination like Mick’s spreadsheet of possible jams, subdivided into well-known and medium-known hits. What remains is pure performance, and the appeal is directly proportionate to how much you enjoy their karaoke hits. After the 14th song, casual fans feel guilty that their energy is flagging while then-63 Mick’s still huffing on, pelvis sashaying, shoulders jerking, arms popping up Nixon-esque as he struts swivel-kneed across the stage like a man late for a meeting. “What would you do if you weren’t Mick Jagger,” asks an interviewer in one of the too-few archival clips. He’s either flummoxed, irritated, or high, but clearly he’d be an aerobics instructor: When he claps, everyone claps. Ronnie Wood grins, Charlie Watts pounds the drums yet from the neck up appears to be dreaming of fly fishing, and Keith Richards, no longer looking down at his guitar as he wears his smile of perpetual self-bemusement, seems as delighted and surprised by each second on earth as a goldfish or a newborn. The Last Waltz featured cameos by Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, and Ringo Starr. Here, we’ve got Christina Aguilera and Jack White. But we’re not there for Xtina’s admittedly soulful singing; we’re there to see Keith smoke indoors in Bloomberg’s Manhattan. Despite the attendance of our “first black president” (who never takes a turn on the sax), it’s curious to notice more diversity on stage than in the entire audience. If Marty had been interested in exploring—not just crystallizing—the Stones’ legacy, this would be a damned fine doc. As it stands, it’s a time capsule. (Amy Nicholson)



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