Scorsese Captures the Stones, in Shadow and 'Light'

Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger in 'Shine a Light' i i

hide captionMartin Scorsese worked closely with Mick Jagger and the rest of the Stones to create the concert documentary Shine a Light.

Brigitte Lacombe
Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger in 'Shine a Light'

From left: Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood backstage during the filming of Shine a Light.

Brigitte Lacombe
Martin Scorsese with Keith Richards i i

hide captionMartin Scorsese (right) talks with Rolling Stones lead guitarist Keith Richards backstage at the Beacon Theater, site of Scorsese's concert film.

Jacob Cohl/RST Concerts
Martin Scorsese with Keith Richards

Martin Scorsese (right) talks with Rolling Stones lead guitarist Keith Richards backstage at the Beacon Theater, site of Scorsese's concert film.

Jacob Cohl/RST Concerts

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The funniest thing in Martin Scorsese's mega-wattage Rolling Stones concert movie Shine a Light is footage of a young, soft-faced Mick Jagger in the mid-'60s — being asked how much longer he thinks the Stones will stay together.

What is it about this band that makes you always think of its demise? Is it something inherently fraught about their sound — that blend of driving rock and ramshackle blues? Is it Keith Richards' legendary drug intake, which killed many a musician who tried to keep up?

Scorsese doesn't penetrate the mystery of the band's regeneration. He stands before Jagger like a pagan sun-worshipper. He knows that merely capturing this magical energy — this dynamo — is triumph enough.

He comes close to pulling it off — although I didn't see Shine a Light in IMAX, and I think its extra oomph might make a difference. Scorsese brings together a Marvel Comics-worthy assemblage of super-cinematographers who shot their footage from all angles, and he cuts it together to get your adrenaline flowing.

But Jagger is remote. His singing has always had a dash of irony. He has a persona — insinuating, more than a little black, polymorphously sexual. But here it feels rote, as if the lyrics have no connection to anything in his life now.

Scorsese is canny enough to make Jagger's elusiveness the movie's launching point: The director appears in a black-and-white prologue, trying to connect over the phone with Jagger about the set, the song list, the camera ...

Jagger's motor runs too fast — even for Scorsese, king of the speed-freaky motor-mouths. Yet even here, in concert, Jagger is a fascinating spectacle: his lightning stutter-steps, his rope-thin torso, his spastic finger-pointing. His voice has always been underrated, and it still has power.

He's better when he's interacting with other musicians in the film, though: with the great Buddy Guy; and with, amazingly enough, Christina Aguilera, who brings much-needed va-va-voom to a stage full of old men — and who reminds you that Jagger, however self-contained, isn't just about self-love.

Best of all is when he puts his head together with Keith Richards, who looks like Freddy Krueger's gypsy grandmother, but hey, he's alive and in clover.

So is Charlie Watts, who in old interview footage seems perplexed by his celebrity but now seems infinitely amused by the whole crazy circus. Even if they wrote their best songs decades ago, the Stones are tighter than ever. However chaotic their lives off stage, the center has held.

My favorite rock-concert movie is Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense, with the Talking Heads. There, and in his Neil Young: Heart of Gold, Demme shoots performance in a way that illuminates the performers' roots and the process of putting the music and the act together. Shine a Light is nowhere near that organic: Scorsese is firmly on the outside peering in.

Yet there is, amid the spectacle, a point of connection between him and the Stones. Scorsese has always adored rock — he uses it marvelously in his films, and he made a classic concert movie, The Last Waltz.

Here, he ceded power to Jagger, who wouldn't even give him a set list. But Scorsese is a rock star in the editing room, and at the end of Shine a Light, he takes the movie back. The camera follows the Stones out of the Beacon Theater, and there's Scorsese outside the stage door, waving the camera up, up, up over Manhattan Island. He's showing off his own muscle by rising above the throng.

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