Shine a Light isn't the first Rolling Stones concert film/documentary (Gimme Shelter, The Rolling Stones Rock-and-Roll Circus, Let's Spend the Night Together, etc.), and it isn't the first concert film/music doc directed by Martin Scorsese (The Last Waltz). It does share the distinction of being the worst such film to incorporate either of these justifiably lauded pop-culture institutions.
Executive-produced by the four continuing members of the band (bassist Bill Wyman had the good sense to get out a few years ago), Shine a Light is ultimately more than just a narcissistic self-portrait of the Stones. With Scorsese indulging in some on-camera mugging and Bill Clinton showing up to devour some camera time ("Charlie [Watts] keeps it going," the Big Guy explains to his mother-in-law while meeting the Stones drummer), the film emerges as a narcissistic self-portrait of a certain sliver of the baby-boomer generation. All that's missing are a few commercial breaks for Dennis Hopper to come on and hawk investment advice.
Shine a Light spends about 20 minutes exploring the planning and preparation for the Stones concert at the Beacon Theatre in New York. But, once the concert starts, Shine a Light is stultifyingly stiff and straightforward. Scorsese may be our greatest living filmmaker, but Shine a Light suggests that when it comes to filming a live stage performance, he should take some notes from Jonathan Demme (Stop Making Sense, Neil Young: Heart of Gold).
As it is, the result is two hours of old, rich Mick Jagger prancing insolently around the stage and flashing his bare midriff and Keith Richards slouching around ghoulishly while the band knocks out decent but uninspired versions of familiar songs with occasional celeb duet partners. In purely visual terms, I've never been so happy to see Christina Aguilera. Interspersed with these performances is archival footage that serves no purpose beyond generational pandering. In one 1972 clip, Dick Cavett asks Jagger, "Can you picture yourself at age 60 doing what you're doing now?" A smug Jagger responds, "Oh yeah. Absolutely."
Shine a Light invites you to genuflect before the band's greatness and longevity as well, but it doesn't give the film audience much in return. You'd be better off declining this particular party and spinning Exile on Main Street or Beggar's Banquet on your home turntable.
Shine a Light
Opening Friday, April 4th
Studio on the Square