Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Stones concert pic Shine a Light, which opens the Berlinale tonight, failed to start me up. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get no satisfaction, but what’s puzzling me is the nature of its game. Well, I guess you can’t always get what you want. Ok, enough groaners.
After a highly promising first ten minutes – a rapid-fire montage of the tremendous effort required to get the film
off the ground, shot on enough different film stocks to make Oliver
Stone green with envy – the film quickly becomes a straight-up concert film. A masterfully shot and edited concert film, but one that has little appeal to those of us not interested in hearing Brown Sugar for the eight millionth time.
The interplay and clashes between Scorsese and Jagger – over the staging, the lighting, the camera placement and even the set list – would make for a fascinating doc on its own. Marty's attention to even the tiniest of details is remarkable, and the snippets of what we see in those opening moments are glimpses into his working method as a director. The candid moments with the band during rehearsal, plus the slightly awkward meet-and-greets with Bill Clinton and his guests has a genuine immediacy to it that I hoped would continue throughout the film.
However, the concert soon begins and that's all we get for the remainder of the film, save for some ironic archival interview footage of the band members answering questions along the lines of "how long do you think you'll be doing this?" As for the band itself, sure, they still have remarkable energy on stage, and Jagger at 64 has a stamina that would put many 32 year-olds to shame, but the problem is just how polished and over-produced it all sounds.
With a slew of supporting musicians literally on the sidelines (including two additional guitar players – are Ron and Keith not able to bring it anymore on their own?), the arrangements are more Vegas than rock-and-roll. They do a bunch of expected hits, some rarer tracks from their catalog, as well as a few covers, including Just My Imagination, which goes on for far too long. It's a homogenized version of the Stones, right down to Mick cleaning up the offensive lyrics in Some Girls.
What is impressive about the film is how up close and personal Marty and his cinematographers (which include John Toll and Emmanuel Lubezki) manage to get to their subjects. Much of the film is shot in extreme close-up, and it's not always flattering. There's coverage of just about everything going on, and the editing (by David Tedeschi) is award-worthy. Sure, it's better than your average concert film, and die-hard fans won't be disappointed, but it's no Last Waltz II.
And they didn't even play Gimme Shelter! What's up with that?