Saturday, April 5, 2008

Shine a Light (2008, Martin Scorsese)

After a long career capped by his recent Oscar win, Scorsese has more than earned the right to make whatever he damn pleases. If he wants to do a large-format Rolling Stones concert film, that's fine. But while Shine a Light is entertaining, it's scarcely more than that, and its only real justification is that Marty always wanted to film a Stones concert. Perhaps it would have felt like less of a disappointment if not for the opening ten minutes- a montage of the frenzied preparations for the show, with Scorsese poring over obsessively detailed camera setups for all possible songs the Stones might perform while he sweats what the actual playlist might be. It's a mini-gem, with Scorsese placing it in a tiny square in the middle of the frame and filming everything in black-and-white. It's so much fun, and so jazzily-edited, that it sets up something big to come, but once the concert begins and the image expands to fill the frame (a great moment, by the way) it becomes a pretty standard-issue concert film. In fact, it's the extent to which Scorsese prepared that's part of what keeps Shine a Light from really soaring- because everything is so planned, there's little room for the little offhand moments and found shots that distinguish some of the greatest concert films out there. But then, I'd argue that the lack of stylistic surprises from Scorsese perfectly fit this concert, with Mick Jagger & Co. playing the hits everyone expects (except "Gimme Shelter" for some reason). Although everyone puts in a good day's work onstage- at twice my age, Mick is nimbler and more energetic than I can ever hope to be- they've played these songs too many times and for too long for them to hold any more surprises, either for them or for us. It's hard to argue with the songs themselves, although for my money the earlier stuff just doesn't sounds quite right with Ronnie Wood instead of Brian Jones or especially Mick Taylor. But aside from some good music and a handsome look, it's little more than a better-than-average concert film. That'd be enough for most filmmakers, but given the involvement of Scorsese and his Murderer's Row of cinematographers (Richardson! Lubezki! Toll! Kuras! Elswit! Dryburgh! Lesnie! Maysles!!!!), it feels vaguely like a squandering of talent. Still, well worth seeing if you dig the Stones- but then, who doesn't? Rating: 6 out of 10.

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