I saw the Rolling Stones live back in 1998, and I have to say that there’s really no substitute for seeing them live, no matter how well done the movie is. I’m more of a middling than a hardcore Stones fan, which is to say I like them, but I’m not morbid about them and don’t feel compelled as I do with some groups—like the Beatles or, to get obscure, the Bonzo Dog Band—to own everything they ever recorded. Seeing the Stones live, however, was—for me at least—close to revelatory. For the first time, I understood Jagger’s sex appeal (and even Pete Townshend’s unprintable statement about his own reaction of watching Jagger onstage) and even the weird charm of Keith Richards, who seems to be enjoying himself while being slightly amused by the whole thing.
Martin Scorsese comes as close as anyone is likely to get capturing the electricity of a Stones concert with Shine a Light. It’s not quite the same as watching them live, but it’s still very good indeed. Armed with a battery of ace cinematographers working as cameramen and his own sense of theater, Scorsese nails the concert like nobody’s business.
He even cleverly creates a mini-drama for himself with a setup story that pits Marty the filmmaker against Mick the star via the conflict between Scorsese’s desire to have a firm playlist from which to build the movie and Jagger constantly altering that list. As presented in the film, the concert is all that matters to Jagger; the film is but a minor concern—even an annoyance. It’s probably utterly manufactured (coproducer Jagger undermining the film?), but it sets a kind of edgy tone that conveys Scorsese’s own enthusiasm—something the film’s actual ending drives home with a vengeance.
Enthusiasm and energy are in fact what propel the film. It quickly doesn’t matter that the Stones look like they ought to be in the old rockers’ home. They don’t act like it, they don’t move like it, and most of all, they don’t interact like it. That last is the real key. These four guys are into this; they’re having fun. They believe in the value of these songs that date back 40 years or more in some cases. You can see it in the way they look at each other.
You can also see that belief in the face of Jack White when he shows up to join in on “Loving Cup.” There’s a sense not just of unbridled joy, and not just of having trouble believing that he is actually on stage with the Stones. White conveys something more: the wonderment of sharing a camaraderie with these icons. And it’s something of that same sense that Scorsese captures on film. I’ve seen a few negative reviews that bemoan the fact that Shine a Light wasn’t made when the Stones were at their peak. The whole point is that it couldn’t have been made then. To be what it is, it had to be made now—and what it is, is pretty special. If you want to see the film on the big screen, hurry, because it’ll be gone by Friday. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, drug references and smoking.