The Rolling Stones and director Martin Scorsese deliver an impressive visual and auditory masterpiece with the upcoming documentary film, Shine A Light. Stocked with an arsenal of 2006 performance footage from New York City’s Beacon Theater, the two hour film, distributed by Paramount Classics, is produced by Steve Bing, Michael Cohl, Zane Weiner and Victoria Pearman, executive produced by band members Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood. Jane Rose serves as co-executive producer. The film, slated for theatrical release on April 4, is is dedicated to the memory of Ahmet Ertegun.
Having been in St. Louis in 1987 to write a review for Billboard Magazine on the two concerts that were held to generate footage for Taylor Hackford’s feature film, Hail, Hail, Rock And Roll, A Tribute To Chuck Berry, for which Stones guitarist Keith Richards served as musical director, and my later having reviewed several other Rolling Stones films, among them, the reissue of that film on DVD, as well as The Biggest Bang, Rock And Roll Circus, Four Flicks, my cherished limited edition release of Keith Richards and the X-Pensive Winos: Live At The Hollywood Palladium, and my owning numerous other Stones films, a few of which include Let’s Spend The Night Together, Bridges To Babylon, Live At The Max, Gimme Shelter, Sympathy For The Devil, plus the rest of the footage that is stashed in my shelves, I knew I would be more than qualified to make a comparison, when seeing what Martin Scorsese would bring to the mix. Many years ago, ever since a friend of mine had given me a bootleg copy of Cocksucker Blues, which featured the legendary vision of Keith Richards and Bobby Keyes throwing a TV set out of a hotel window, I was hooked. Since then, I have somehow also acquired numerous other bootleg Rolling Stones videos recorded around the world. By now, I was more than ready to finally witness what the director of brilliant works like Taxi Driver, The Last Waltz, Good Fellas, and No Direction Home would create when intersecting with the Glimmer Twins. The result is priceless.
In the early moments of the film, Scorsese and Jagger pontificate over potential song lists, an immense feat in itself, considering the band’s prolific catalogue, in addition to the many cover songs the Stones have performed over the years. Scorsese wanted a sequenced set list prior to the show, in order to be fully prepared to get the shots he would ultimately need. With almost twenty cameras simultaneously filming various angles, choosing the shots to be included in the film would require skillful editing, which would subsequently be done by David Tedeschi. The resulting choice comprised of countless close-ups and well-chosen pan shots make the film move quickly. Among personnel working the cameras were longtime pros that include Al Maysles, dual Oscar winner John Toll, and two time Academy Award winner Robert Richardson.
As preparations for lensing the concert are made, a model of the stage set is viewed by Jagger, who comments, “It looks like a doll house.” The set is different than other shows on the Bigger Bang tour. Here, there is no B-stage rolling towards the back of the venue; there are none of the usual backdrops or tongue logos. Nor are there pre-fabricated, graphic-filled video screens to watch in addition to seeing the band, itself, on stage. In this sense, the house is scaled down, with the focus solely on the performers and the music.
We see glimpses of the rehearsals, for numbers including “She Was Hot,” for which Jagger referred to a lyrics sheet. As expected, the band looks great throughout the film. Bassist Darryl Jones is particularly dapper this evening, fine-tuned for a peak performance. Richards is strikingly elegant, donning a black, glittery bandana. Jagger’s energetic non-stop drive is punctuated by his many changes of clothing, well chosen for the evening’s attire. The vocalist’s glittery jackets and shirts sparkle as they attract attention, while he prances like a firefly, or conversely simmers down at other times during the evening’s performance.
Interspersed throughout the film, older Stones catalogue is heard in the background, including snippets from “Paint It, Black,” “Under My Thumb,” and “Have Your Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing In The Shadow?”
An amazing accomplishment of Shine A Light is the impeccable sound of the film, an audiophile’s dream, sound that was masterminded by sound mixer Bob Clearmountain, a highly esteemed producer and studio engineer, who has worked on albums with the Stones and many other artists.
Concert footage from the Beacon includes performances of “Jumping Jack Flash,” “All Down The Line,” and “As Tears Go By,” a song that was also recorded by Marianne Faithfull. The audience is also treated to “Shattered,” with its shots of interplay between Jones and Richards. During “Loving Cup,” the band is joined by Jack White of the White Stripes, who plays acoustic guitar, as does Jagger throughout the song. Christina Aguilera steps in for a rowdy version of “Live With Me.” The tongue-in-cheek number “Far Away Eyes,” features Ronnie Wood on his Emmons pedal steel guitar, and back-up vocalist Blondie Chaplin on acoustic guitar. During the chorus, the band harmonizes, making the song as authentically countrified as Willie Nelson, himself, could. Richards laughs during the country gospel tweaked harmonies that strikingly ring as a work of perfection, with tonalities so clearly appropriate for this song.
The film is rated a PG-13. Although during the performances, certain lyrics differ from their original studio recordings, particularly during the live performance of “Some Girls,” in no way does this detract from the film, and most of the band’s fans likely already have all of the original studio recordings anyway. Some lyrics are changed for apparently no reason at all. During “Some Girls,” Jagger inexplicably changes the lyrics from, “Some girls I give all my bread to, I don’t ever want it back,” to “Some girls I give all my love to, I don’t ever get it back.” While performing the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination,” Jagger, playing an electric guitar, ad libs, “But in reality, she doesn’t fucking know me.”
Back-up singer Bernard Fowler, sporting short dreads, is performing next to back-up vocalist Lisa Fischer, who is wearing an alluring black, mid-calf length dress. They both look and sound incredible. Chuck Leavell is seen on keyboards near Tim Reis on horns, as the band covers the Temptations song “Just My Imagination.” “Champagne And Reefer” by Muddy Waters is taken on by the band, who are joined by Buddy Guy, and as would be expected, Jagger proficiently plays harp. The band rolls “Tumblin’ Dice” during the performance, and other live sequences include “Connection.”
Richards greets the crowd by saying, “It’s good to see you. It’s good to see anybody!” He then performs “You Got The Silver,” joined by Ronnie Wood on acoustic slide. Richards, who has silver trinkets hanging from his hair, is also wearing a skull, with two red swords crossed through it, pinned onto his jacket. Richards acknowledges Wood’s contribution to the song’s performance. “Sympathy For The Devil” is also offered, featuring more shots of Charlie Watts. “Start Me Up” is performed, as is “Brown Sugar,” with Bobby Keyes’ transcendent saxophone solo. The anthemic “Satisfaction” makes it onto the set list, as well.
Most of the humor in the documentary comes from Jagger. The film flashes back through interview footage from decades ago, in which Jagger tells one reporter, “I never thought we’d be doing it more than two years. I think we’re at least pretty well set up for another year.” A flashback from a 1972 episode of the Dick Cavett Show offers a view of a heavily mascaraed Jagger, wearing red lipstick with blue glitter on his forehead. Jagger is asked, “Can you picture yourself at age sixty doing what you do now?” to which he replies, “Oh, yes. Easily.”
When drummer Charlie Watts is asked subsequent to their second tour in the Sixties about the immense success of the band, and “What happened,” his innocently quiet response is, “I don’t know.”
In other interview footage, Richards is asked what he thinks about during his performances. “I don’t think on stage,” responds Richards, “I feel.” Through Scorsese’s lens, in turn, we inherently feel Richards, and at times, the experience is nothing less than hypnotic. Scorsese flawlessly zeroes in on such moments, as he shines a light on Richards. The highlight of the film is haunting, and where Shine A Light is at its most powerful, in the poignant, yet almost painful, cinematographic moment that is so elegantly captured on film, as Richards is seemingly drained on stage, accentuated by his demeanor. Seeing Richards in this immensely exhausted state after his intense performance, we are left as breathless as he is. The impact of the scene effectively drives home the magnitude that Richards has given of himself, both emotionally and physically to millions of fans for over forty years, pouring out both his spirit and soul on stage. The moment is heart-rending, expressive and as compelling as is Richards’ performance. Beautiful, yet making one feel awkward and awestricken at the same time, we are taken aback, as we witness Richards’ delivery and his alluring presence. We become acutely aware of how much we take from him, and the demands we make, for which he always delivers far more than what we ask.
This passionate scene shows Richards’ humanity, bringing to the screen a person who sweats and bleeds, rather than simply redelivering the one-dimensional stereotype that the media has perpetually doled out about Richards for several decades. Here, we see Richards in his most human form, not just the so-called “human riff,” but the man, himself, behind the riff.
A segment of the media is another aspect included in the film that is interspersed with press footage, both in black and white and in color, from various tours, going back into the Sixties. Members of the press ask the band ridiculous questions, and are often unprepared for their interviews; despite their credentials and job titles, they are unqualified in a variety of ways to be reporting on the band. One reporter giggles while asking Mick Jagger his age. One portion of footage shows the absurdity of Jagger being confronted by a former Attorney General and religious leaders for promoting “anarchy,” as the singer explains that he is not attempting to be a role model for religion. Jagger and Richards are questioned about drug busts, after the two had been released from arrests, and a flurry of rumors had subsequently hit the press. The band is asked about creating controversy, as the next sequence in the film shows the band posing in drag for promotional photos. A late seventies interview gets the response from the band, “Every tour they say is the last tour.”
President Clinton makes an appearance on stage, as he had previously done at a Los Angeles Staples Center gig during a 2003 “Forty Licks” gig, and he is briefly seen with his wife Hillary. Jagger very briefly comments on Clinton’s environmental organization. Meanwhile, Richards is seen, joking, “Hey, Clinton, I’m bushed!”
The film’s ending scene shows the band leaving the venue, as the final shot transcends into a magnificent, panoramic view of New York City, ascending into the night skyline, and then dramatically, the full moon splendidly turns into a tongue logo.
First the sun, and then the moon. One of them will be around soon.
PHYLLIS POLLACK lives in Los Angeles where she is a publicist and music journalist. She can be reached through her blog.