A Little 'Light' Music: Scorsese on the Stones Two cultural icons come together in a new documentary: Director Martin Scorsese puts rock legends the Rolling Stones center stage in Shine a Light. Scorsese tells Morning Edition it took a lot of choreography — onstage and off.

A Little 'Light' Music: Scorsese on the Stones

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Two cultural icons come together in a new movie, director Martin Scorsese and the Rolling Stones.

(Soundbite of song, "Paint it Black")

Mr. MICK JAGGER (Singer): (Singing) I see a red door, and I want to paint it black.

MONTAGNE: In his movies, Martin Scorsese has turned to the music of the Rolling Stones, time and again, to provide an undercurrent of danger and volatility. Now Martin Scorsese has turned his lens on the band itself.

The result is "Shine a Light," a concert film of the Stones live at a small theater in New York City. To capture the elusive energy of the performance - from the glow of guitarist Keith Richards' cigarette to Mick Jagger's manic dance moves - Scorsese assembled a troop of Oscar-winning cinematographers, and he tried to choreograph the moves of 18 cameras and countless stage lights.

(Soundbite of movie, "Shine a Light")

Unidentified Man #1: If Mick stands in front of the light for more than 18 seconds, it's going to burn.

Unidentified Man #2: You mean, like flames and that?

Unidentified Man #3: We cannot burn Mick Jagger.

Unidentified Man #2: But you want the effect.

Unidentified Man #3: We want the effect, but we can't burn him.

MONTAGNE: "Shine a Light" is a movie Scorsese has been thinking about making for 40 years, back when he first heard the Rolling Stones. He even credits their music with inspiring his filmmaking.

Mr. MARTIN SCORSESE (Director, "Shine a Light"): Their work becomes something that I continually find myself going back to. I mean, it's very hard not to go back to them because it's always in my head, and it dictates, at times, camera moves, tones of scenes, behavior of people, that sort of thing.

MONTAGNE: Let's just step back momentarily to the environment that you existed in when you first heard the Rolling Stones. Who were you?

Mr. SCORSESE: Well, I was pretty much actually still living in the Lower East Side, part of a way of life that was like being in a small Sicilian village that was on its way out, actually. So I had sort of one foot in that world, the old world, and one in the new, which was Washington Square College and New York University - particularly the film department.

I had made two or three short films and was trying to make a first feature, and I was affected by the beginning of rock 'n' roll back in 1954, '55. I had bought the 78-RPM records of Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino, and Elvis Presley, and Little Richard, and that sort of thing -and Carl Perkins. Music was very important to me. My brother played guitar. My father loved music.

The guitar is very important to me, the string instruments - violin, guitar - anything with string instruments.

MONTAGNE: Now the first Stones song you used in one your movies is the song "Jumping Jack Flash," very early in "Mean Streets." The song ushers in the crazily jumpy Johnny Boy.

Mr. SCORSESE: Oh right, Robert De Niro, yeah, De Niro.

(Soundbite of film, "Mean Streets")

(Soundbite of song, "Jumping Jack Flash")

Mr. JAGGER: (Singing) I was born in a cross-fire hurricane.

MONTAGNE: Remind us what's happening at this very moment.

Mr. SCORSESE: Well, "Mean Streets," Charlie, played by Harvey Keitel, promised Michael that Johnny Boy's going to pay back this debt that he owes, and he'll see him tonight at the bar, and don't worry about a thing.

MONTAGNE: Michael being a kind of…

Mr. SCORSESE: Michael's kind of a loan shark, yeah.

MONTAGNE: Low-level loan shark.

Mr. SCORSESE: Very low level, yeah.

MONTAGNE: What did this song, "Jumping Jack Flash," do here that no other song could have done? What, as a matter of fact, is it that made you pay a chunk of the budget of the entire film just to get this song?

Mr. SCORSESE: Well, I think the nature of the song itself, the sound of it. Don't forget, Jagger's voice sounds like an instrument. Also the lyrics are very powerful. The lyrics are powerful, of a beautiful bravado, a person who's living fast and dying young, and why he doesn't give a damn. It's street-level, it's gutter-level - and these are a lot of the people we're dealing with in the film and where I came from, too.

MONTAGNE: So first words in it, born in a cross-fire hurricane.

Mr. SCORSESE: I think you can be in situations and grow up around people that you do feel like you're in the middle of a hurricane all the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCORSESE: And you either become - you try to play up to it, and you try to become one of them, like "Jumping Jack Flash" to a certain extent, or "Gimme Shelter." But there is no shelter for many people.

MONTAGNE: Back to this new concert film, "Shine a Light," "Jumping Jack Flash" was the first song.

(Soundbite of film, "Shine a Light")

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Announcer: And now, please welcome The Rolling Stones.

Unidentified Man #4: Okay, first song.

(Soundbite of song, "Jumping Jack Flash")

MONTAGNE: How much of that was your doing?

Mr. SCORSESE: I didn't quite know until a very short time before the shooting began that it was going to be the first number. There are many, many different things that go into a performance like that that I wasn't even aware of, quite honestly, I was naive about.

Ultimately, the set list is something that they came up with themselves.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, and Mick Jagger was not only not terribly helpful, he seemed to delight in keeping it from you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCORSESE: Yeah, taunting me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCORSESE: Well, we played that up. We played that up, I think. And I mean, in a sense, we have seen so many documentaries where we see the making of, and we see, you know, equipment being brought into the room, into the stage area, all this sort of thing, interviews with the people backstage.

I wasn't interested. I said let's play up the absurdity of trying to make a film. I know that - I think we finally found the set list. Somebody purloined it backstage. I don't want to say who did it, but somebody got it a few hours before.

MONTAGNE: At one point, we hear Mick Jagger telling you, over a speakerphone - you don't see Mick Jagger telling - you're sitting there - telling you he's not really keen on having to use certain cameras, and we'll just play that moment.

(Soundbite of film, "Shine a Light")

Mr. JAGGER: My other worry about the cameras was, Marty, was that they whiz around all the time, and that's very annoying to the audience and to everyone on the stage, and it's dangerous.

Mr. SCORSESE: It would be good to have a camera that moves, that swoops down and in and out and tracks, you know, along the side somehow.

Mr. JAGGER: Is that it?

Mr. SCORSESE: Yeah, I mean, and I kept going. Actually, that's real. I just couldn't stop going on about the type of movement I wanted in the camera. I hadn't done a film before where the performance group happened to be flying around a lot. So you weren't in the same city. So primarily, they became little talking boxes on telephones, trying to get these major decisions made, and nobody can get in the same room. Well, eventually we got in the same room, depending on where they were on our tour and where I was, but it created more interesting situations than we thought.

MONTAGNE: Now, dotted through the film are archival interviews, when these guys are pretty young, but at one point, Mick Jagger is asked about the very thing he's doing, which is performing as an older person, when he's so clearly at that point 20ish.

(Soundbite of film, "Shine a Light")

Unidentified Man #4: Can you picture yourself at the age of 60 doing what you do now?

Mr. JAGGER: Yeah, easily, yeah.

Unidentified Man #4: Really?

Mr. JAGGER: Oh yeah.

Unidentified Man #4: Going on stage with a cane and…

Mr. JAGGER: Yeah, and…

MONTAGNE: Why didn't you do interviews of your own?

Mr. SCORSESE: Well, I think ultimately, you know, the Rolling Stones, along with the Beatles, I guess, are the most documented band in history. So much has been said, they've answered so many questions, very often the same questions for the past 30 or 40 years, but primarily, I wanted to say what could be different about this film?

Who are the Rolling Stones? What are they? And that is the music ultimately. The music stands. We don't have to know who they are or who they were, even their names. The music is something unique and different and will always be there.

MONTAGNE: Martin Scorsese, thank you very much for talking to us.

Mr. SCORSESE: Okay, thank you.

(Soundbite of song, "Shine a Light")

Mr. JAGGER: (Singing) May the good Lord shine a light on you….

MONTAGNE: Martin Scorsese's concert film, "Shine a Light," opens in theaters today. See the Rolling Stones in clips from the movie at our Web site, npr.org/movies. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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