Shine a Light

Movie Information

The Story: The Rolling Stones as captured in concert at New York's Beacon Theatre. The Lowdown: A very good -- if maybe not great -- concert by the Grand Old Men of rock is brilliantly captured by Martin Scorsese.
Genre: Concert Documentary
Director: Martin Scorsese (The Departed)
Starring: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood
Rated: PG-13

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.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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7 thoughts on “Shine a Light

  1. Ken Hanke

    Even though it’s at the end of the review, let me say here that you have Wednesday and Thursday to catch SHINE A LIGHT. After that, you’re waiting for the DVD.

  2. Dionysis

    While I’m not a big Stones fan (I saw them once in the late 1970s during the tour for the album ‘Some Girls’ and was, well, disappointed…two weeks later I saw the Who in the same venue and they made the Stones seem like a bar band), but based upon this review, it would be nice to catch in 3-D in an IMAX setting.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Compared to the Who most things seem like a bar band, come to think of it. Anyway, you can’t see this locally in IMAX or 3-D, but it’s still better 15 feet high and 30 feet wide in six channel Dolby than it’ll be in your living room.

  4. The one rock doc that the Fine Arts needs to carry is the Joe Strummer one. I get asked about it every single day.

  5. Zigopolis

    Last rock documentary I saw was U2 3D and it just about melted my head. I like the Stones, saw them in the late 80s and they were great. I’m not too hot on the Stones documentary, but I would absolutely love to see the Joe Strummer documentary, every time I see an ad for it on different dvds I just salivate.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Last rock documentary I saw was U2 3D and it just about melted my head.

    I’m unclear whether you’re damning the film or praising it.

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