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Martin Scorsese's Shine a Light



Like Scorsese, the Stones’ efforts to breathe life into old stand-bys backfire. They drown their rich, diverse catalog in over-arranged over-productions that bring everything to the same Super Bowl timbre of sound. “As Tears Go By,” originally a vulnerable, autumnal plainsong (prediction: listen for it in the next Wes Anderson film), becomes a maudlin American Idol power ballad, causing an outbreak of waving lighters; “Tumbling Dice,” a raw, honky paean to the independent life of rambling, gets worked into another flavorless Rock Song; even the immortal “Satisfaction” is stripped of its perfectly employed drum breaks — God forbid any instrument aside from a guitar should stand alone for a solitary moment and snap us out of the din.

The direction and editing of Shine a Light follow in kind: the thing is cut like your typical MTV-era mess, with eye-blink length shots gliding over the crowd for no discernable reason (again, compare with The Last Waltz’s greater respect for the performers on stage, whose actions are captured in unfancy long takes). Robert Richardson’s crisp cinematography makes the concert footage look handsome enough, even if we’re forced to see in crystal-clear detail Jagger’s midriff-baring too-short T-shirt and the army of doodads hanging from Keith’s hair and/or bandana. But how can it be appreciated when the viewer is more or less forced into not fastening on any gesture or expression (and Mick can conjure a symphony of them) for too long? Scorsese ends the film with a point of view shot from Jagger’s vantage point as he exits the stage into the Beacon’s wings. This tracking shot then moves outside into the night air and, with the aid of digital effects, swoops into the clouds to contemplate the Manhattan skyline. It’s somehow lamer than the last image of The Departed and perfectly sums up the director at his ostentatious worst.

The Stones and the movie instead have to get by on name brand recognition, spectacle and sheer force of will. Elderly jokes aside, the sheer energy that this band puts into give-the-people-what-they-paid-for showmanship at their age commands respect (even Charlie Watts, possibly the most unassuming rock star in history, lets out some steam at a camera). But Shine a Light also ironically proves that if the Stones can incredibly still be considered the Greatest Rock ’n’ Roll Band in the World, it’s by default. Look at the guests who take the stage with the Stones: a pop diva (Christina Aguilera, surviving Jagger’s pelvis thrusts through “Live With Me”); one of the blues guitarists whose influence Richards and the Stones wouldn’t have been Richards and the Stones without (Buddy Guy, earning the film’s best moment when he stares into a camera during “Champagne and Reefer”); and my generation’s very own po-mo Jagger (Jack White, straining for the high notes of “Loving Cup”). In other words, a marketing product, another museum rocker, and a mimic.

Who are the earnest protégées of the ’00s who can claim the Stones’ blockbuster rock ’n’ roll success in tandem with culturally destabilizing insurgence? Don’t give me Radiohead — I’m talking about rock ’n’ roll. And there lies the answer, for all of its usually premature usage: rock ’n’ roll — Big Time rock ’n’ roll that you can take seriously and dance to at the same time — is dead. The Stones could never be accused of killing it, but Shine a Light provides ample evidence that their ability to continually cash in on displaying its corpse just makes it all that more difficult to envision a resurrection anytime in the near future.

 

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