Functioning as reverent concert film and abridged history lesson, Martin Scorsese’s Shine a Light regards the vigor and passion of The Rolling Stones as emblematic of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s perpetuity, employing their eclecticism and longevity as a rock-solid representation of the genre in its entirety. Though he often confuses controversy and celebrity for substance, captured in his preoccupation with stadium-tour excess, Scorsese never strays far from Keith Richards’ fingers and Mick Jagger’s hips, understanding that the roux for rhythm and blues is the fervent vibration of electric guitar and insinuation built into every sway.
Commencing days before the band takes the stage, Scorsese complicates his narrative by examining the technical aspects of event planning, implying a looseness with grainy, hand-held photography that contradicts the painstaking detail applied to stage lighting and ornamentation. His endorsement of the dubious union between art and politics is also antithetical and inappropriate, diminishing the danger and sexuality inherent in the Stones’ music with every posed photo of President Clinton and on-screen deliberation between financiers.
Thankfully, the performance footage broadens the color spectrum and trains its eye on the entertainers, stranding the reality of the music industry behind the curtain. Robert Richardson’s keen instincts capably capture depth and frame shots in a chaotic environment, evading the glare of spotlights and flash of cell phones to reproduce the emotional bond between performer and audience.
Mick Jagger’s flair for working a crowd into a frenzy is also undiminished by the pageantry of the production design, finding his form and footwork as lissome and flirtatious as it was at the height of the British Invasion. He’s even ushered a sense of humor into the autumn of his life, coquettishly smirking through “Some Girls” funniest verses and playing roué to Christina Aguilera’s sultry chanteuse.
Yet, this propensity for playfulness doesn’t betray a lack of consideration, as Jagger and company have manifested a coherent theme from an array of back-catalog favorites and tried-and-true standards. Pivoting between styles during Scorsese’s montages of archival footage, the boys honor country, soul and blues with intimate renditions and an aesthete's rigor, welcoming Buddy Guy and Jack White to the stage to inject authenticity and juvenility into their guileless interpretations.
A spirited cover of “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” finds the band at their most excitable, as each strum of Keith Richard’s low-hanging guitar embodies the “ecstasy” lingering within Barrett Strong’s words and enkindles a nostalgia for the neglected facets of rock history. By championing these forebearers and contemporaries, The Rolling Stones have ushered the form into the 21st Century, supplanting the vapidity of fame with a scholarly approach to the art and sexuality of the recent past, transforming the transitory nature of popular culture into enduring folk tradition.
Shine a Light (Paramount Classics, 2008)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Photographed by Robert Richardson