Shine a Light

Berlin Film Fest 2008 (World Premiere)–A laudatory celebration of the Rolling Stones and their dynamo star singer Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese's “Shine a Light” is an exuberant concert film that should not be considered (or evaluated) as a full-fledged documentary about the band's history.

Serving as opening night of the 2008 Berlin Film Festival, where it received its official world premiere, “Shine a Light” will be released by Paramount Classics April 8 in a platform pattern, beginning with N.Y. and L.A.

The docu is based on a record of the band's two concerts in New York City's Beacon Theater (on Broadway and 76th street) in the fall of 2006. One occurred on the occasion of the 60th birthday of President Bill Clinton, who opens the film with introductory remarks.

Scorsese's docu captures the magical charisma of the entire group and star Mick Jagger in particular. As such, it differs from the various music documentaries he has made: the seminal 1970 “Woodstock,” on which he served as an editor, “The Last Waltz,” in 1977, about the Band, and most recently, his Bob Dylan film, No Direction Home. (It's also different from helmer's new project, a chronicle of the Beatles George Harrison, which is going to be a more straightforward docu).

Up close and personal, Jagger is center-stage for at least 100 of the 122 minutes running time, delivering a dynamo performance that captures the exuberant style marking his music over the past four decades. The show includes about two-dozen songs, sort of the Stones' hit parade, more or less performed the same way they have been done before.

As helmer, he appears twice in the film, in gritty black-and-white footage, which sharply contrasts with the rest of the film that's deliriously and dizzyingly overlit; some jokes are exchanged about the powerfully extensive, omnipresent cameras burning Jagger on stage.

Scorsese first appears in the very beginning, with producer Victoria Pearman, showing anxiety (and some frustration) as he prepares for the shoot, dealing with the choice of songs to be included in the docu. The director then appears in the end, when Jagger walks out of the theater, nervously instructing the camera man, “quick, faster, higher, higher,” so that he can capture the moment authentically.

In his intro, Clinton, accompanied by wife Hillary, daughter Chelsea, his nephew and other members, recalls fondly how he had served before as an “opener” of the Stones concert, in 2001, dedicated to the issue of climate warming. Clinton's remarks, as are those of the others interviewed, are brief, as if in a hurry to clear the stage for the main attraction.

Refreshingly, this work doesn't make any reference to Jagger's notorious appearance in “Gimme Shelter.” Moreover, unlike other concert films, while there are shots of the audiences, standing and cheering and joining Jagger with raised arms, no attendees are interviewed on camera. Moreover, as the concert is as much a celebration of President Clinton's birthday as one of the Stones, it's safe to assume that the crowds at the Beacon are not the typical fans of the band.

Occasionally, there are snippets of old footage, such as a Dick Cavett's 1970s interview, in which the famous host asks Mick, “Can you see yourself doing the same thing when you're 60” “Absolutely, easily,” Jagger says without a blink. Among other achievements, “Shine a Light,” offers a proof, as if there was need for one, that at 63, physically slender and a bit ragged with lines and wrinkles, Jagger is still at the top of his form-as a singer and as a physical performer, who restlessly moves on stage, getting closer and closer to his audience, but never crossing the line.

Thematically, the concert film contains two recurrent issues. First is the longevity of the band, which is unusual in the music world, a miracle of endurance and preservations. The second theme deals with the effects of time on Jagger and his loyal comrades, not only in terms of music and performance style but also in terms of communication (on stage and off) and relationships. After all, the band has prevailed for 45 years–despite generational changes in taste and fashion, occasional arrests, personal scandals, bouts with drugs, and so on.

Though most of the film features Jagger, it also contains two or three numbers with Keith Richards and drummer Charlie Watts, who are celeb musicians in their own right. Watching the eccentric Richards talk and move, you can't help but think of Johnnie Depp in “The Pirates” films, whose performance as Captain Sparrow was inspired by his gestures.

Guest performers who engage in duets with Jagger or as back-up singers include Christina Aguilera, Buddy Guy, and Jack White III, all of whom come across well, in some measure due to Jagger's generosity.

Technically, “Shine a Light” is a marvel to the eyes and ears. The movie displays the work of a legendary team of cinematographers, aiming to capture the unique energy and magic of the band. Oscar-winning Lenser Robert Richardson, who has shot Oliver Stone's “JFK” and Scorsese's “The Aviator,” supervised an ace camera team, composed of John Toll, Andrew Lesnie, Stuart Dyburgh, Robert Elswit, Emmanuel Lubezki, Ellen Kuras, and others. It's hard to imagine a more accomplished group of lensers, and just enlisting all 16 of them, with their credits and Oscar nominations and awards, would take a whole page.

The film was edited by David Tedeschi, who most recently worked with Scorsese on the docu, “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan.”

While this affectionate homage is perfectly enjoyable, I wish there was less music and more narrative footage about the changing socio-political contexts, evolution of musical style, the fluid identities of the dramatis persona–each member of the Stones makes for a lively and lovely figure when they talk, even if they don't talk much here.

End Note

The docu is dedicated to the memory of music figure Ahmet Ertegun, who fatally fell during the recorded concert and died shortly after. He was 83.


Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood, Christina Aguilera, Buddy Guy, Jack White III, Bill and Hilary Rodman Clinton, Martin Scorsese, Victoria Pearman.


A Paramount Classics release presented in association with Concert Event Prods. Intl. and Shangri-La Entertainment.
Produced by Michael Cohl, Zane Weiner, Steve Bing, Victoria Pearman. Executive producers, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood.
Co-producers, Joseph Reidy, Emma Tillinger.
Co-executive producer, Jane Rose.
Directed by Martin Scorsese.
Camera: Robert Richardson.
Camera operators: Mitchell Amundsen, Pat Capone, Stuart Dryburgh, David Dunlap, Bob Elswit, Chris Haarloff, Tony Jannelli, Ellen Kuras, Robert Leacock, Andrew Lesnie, Emmanuel Lubezki, Anastas Michos, Declan Quinn, Andrew Rowlands, Gerard Sava, John Toll; camera in hand, Albert Maysles.
Editor: David Tedeschi.
Art director: Star Theodos.
Concert set design: Mark Fisher.
Concert lighting design: Patrick Woodroffe.
Sound: Danny Michael, Gautam Choudhury; supervising sound editors, Phil Stockton, Fredric Rosenberg.
Re-recording mixer: Tomo Fleischman.
Music mixer: Bob Clearmountain.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 122 Minutes.