The evolution of the Rolling Stones’ reputation — from rock ’n’ roll’s bad boys to its most beloved and resilient granddaddies — is plain to see in “Shine a Light.” Martin Scorsese’s energetic account of a Stones concert at Gotham’s Beacon Theater in fall 2006 takes full advantage of heavy camera coverage and top-notch sound to create an invigorating musical trip down memory lane, as well as to provoke gentle musings on the wages of aging and the passage of time. Revenue from home entertainment markets will far surpass that from limited theatrical runs, which launch in early spring after its Berlin Film Festival world preem Thursday night.
An old hand at contempo music docs dating back to his editing chores on “Woodstock,” Scorsese doesn’t attempt anything nearly as ambitious here as he did with the Band on “The Last Waltz” or with the epic Dylan piece “No Direction Home.” Other than initial glimpses of the helmer planning the shoot and fretting over not having a song list in advance, ”Shine a Light” doesn’t really bear much of the director’s imprint; it’s a proficient celebration of the band’s great songs, performing skills and durability, and perfectly enjoyable as such.
One hundred minutes of the two-hour film are devoted to the show itself — more than 20 numbers, mostly Stones standards performed with some but not much variation on the way they’ve been played for up to 40 years or more. As the band’s concerts always have been, “Shine a Light” is mostly a Mick Jagger show, as a battery of great cinematographers (under the eye of lead d.p. Robert Richardson) keeps its cameras trained on him as he cavorts around the stage and penetrates the audience courtesy of a thrust platform; drummer Charlie Watts, guitarist Ronnie Wood and especially Keith Richards warrant occasional cutaways, as do the numerous side musicians, but the star is the star.
As he always has, Jagger puts on a terrific show. For the past two or three tours now, he’s inspired admiring comments on what great shape he’s in, about how inexhaustibly he dances and runs and, in large arenas, scampers to the furthest corners of the stages and catwalks and never seems to lose his breath. Even though the Beacon’s more constrained playing area limits his mobility somewhat, he still obviously has what it takes, in spite of a voice no longer capable of either the tenderness or the insinuation of its youth.
Sixty-three at the time of the concert, Jagger is not entirely impervious to the ravages of time, and the relentless closeup scrutiny could not be more revealing — not only of his taut muscle tone and evidently fat-free physique, but of his deeply lined face; some low-angle shots are so tight you can examine the dark bridgework on the back of his front teeth.
The band members’ endurance gains perspective through some wonderful interspersed clips and interview footage from earlier decades. Queried as to what question he is most frequently asked, a very young Jagger replies, “How long do you think you’re going to carry on singing?” In 1972, when Dick Cavett asks the star if he could imagine doing what he does at 60, Jagger immediately replies, “Easily.” Jagger’s and Richards’ youthful drug busts are briefly covered, although any mention of Brian Jones is conveniently avoided. But for all the group’s early unsavory reputation, by far the predominant impression Jagger conveys in the archival stuff is one of overwhelming sweetness.
After chugging along nicely for an hour, pic kicks into high gear — and pretty much remains there — when Jagger duets with charismatic, boom-voiced bluesman Buddy Guy on a wild old Muddy Waters tune, “Champagne and Reefer.” Jagger takes a break when Richards winningly knocks off “You Got the Silver” and “Connection,” and singers Jack White III and Christina Aguilera come aboard for one duet apiece.
Scorsese doesn’t push the comparison at all, but Jagger’s hard-working British persona and his advancing years sometimes put one in mind of modest but equivalent events of yesteryear, when old-time English music hall performers would run their venerable acts out before their adoring same-age fans one more time. Jagger is hardly at such an advanced point but, notwithstanding the bodacious 20-something babes strategically lining the stage, it’s no secret that most of the audience are boomers like former President Clinton, who is conspicuously present celebrating his birthday with family.
Pic is dedicated to longtime music guru Ahmet Ertegun, who, at 83, took a bad fall at the recorded concert and died shortly thereafter.