Shine A Light Review

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A music documentary. Martin Scorsese captures the Rolling Stones during their A Bigger Bang world tour. Filmed over two nights at New York’s historic Beacon Theater in the autumn of 2006, the band's powers show no signs of waning.


Martin Scorsese appears only fleetingly in his most recent rock-doc, but for the 65 year-old New Yorker, Shine A Light must feel autobiographical. The Stones have cropped up throughout his filmography, their exuberant energy rattling through Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Casino. He credits the band with introducing him to the Blues, and while listening to their music he visualised scenes for what would become landmark movies.

In filming a band whose music carries so much personal significance, Scorsese makes a highly personal choice, deciding against a narrative structure and opting instead for a live celebration. For him, the secret to the Stones’ continued success can be found in their concerts. And, on this evidence, those performances are electric.

Fittingly, given its place in Mean Streets, the Stones open with Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Jagger is the king of swagger, pouting and preening while gliding across the stage like Fred Astaire. Keith Richards, meanwhile, is at his cartoon best - “It’s nice to be here,” he sighs, “it’s nice to be anywhere,” cigarette erupting from his lip like a miniature firework. The quality of the band’s playing is matched by the technical accomplishments of Scorsese’s array of expert cameramen (including Gimme Shelter’s Albert Maysles), and editor, who capture the subtle nuances of each member’s performance.
Scorsese is, of course, well versed in music documentary, from his stint as an editor on Woodstock, where he helped shape a zeitgeist moment, through to The Last Waltz, his ode to ’70s super-group The Band, and No Direction Home, a surprisingly personal sketch of Bob Dylan, a man he has never actually met. But his vision of the Stones is a simpler one. Archive material and interviews are woven in with the live footage - as with No Direction Home, he delights in juxtaposing then and now - but this remains a concert film. It is Scorsese’s tribute to the music that shaped his movies, and we see the Stones through his eyes. To him they are immediate; they are dynamic; they are the best rock ’n’ roll band in the world.

A triumph for Scorsese and a document for the band, Shine A Light is a five-star experience for Stones fans. For those less enamoured with the ageing rockers, it goes a long way to explaining their longevity.