Champagne & Reefer: Rolling Stones Shine a Light

Rolling Stones Shine a Light movie poster


Mar­tin Scorsese’s long his­to­ry with musi­cal doc­u­men­taries and con­cert films includes work­ing as assis­tant direc­tor and edi­tor on Wood­stock (1970), direct­ing an account of The Band’s final con­cert as The Last Waltz (1978), exec­u­tive pro­duc­ing and design­ing the shots for Peter Gabriel’s con­cert film PoV (AKA Point of View, 1987), direct­ing part of the mas­sive The Blues tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­tary series (2003), and craft­ing the defin­i­tive Bob Dylan and George Har­ri­son doc­u­men­taries No Direc­tion Home (2005) and Liv­ing in the Mate­r­i­al World (2010).

Shine a Light is a lit­tle of all the above, but most­ly just a straight­for­ward con­cert film fea­tur­ing the Rolling Stones in a ben­e­fit con­cert thrown at New York City’s Bea­con The­ater in 2006. The Stones are joined by spe­cial guests Christi­na Aguil­era, Jack White, and Bud­dy “Moth­er­fuck­er” Guy (watch the DVD bonus fea­tures for the enter­tain­ing sto­ry behind that moniker). It was orig­i­nal­ly released in IMAX, and no doubt los­es some­thing in trans­la­tion from 50-foot the­aters screens to small tele­vi­sions. U2 did them one up by releas­ing U23D in 3D IMAX the year before.

Martin Scorsese and The Rolling Stones in Shine a LightAre you sure you want to see these faces in 50-foot-high IMAX?

Like Gimme Shel­ter (1970), a doc­u­men­tary account of the fall­out fol­low­ing the killing of a fan at a Stones con­cert in Alta­mont, Shine a Light is some­times less than total­ly flat­ter­ing. Mick Jag­ger is seen to be so ruth­less­ly sin­gle-mind­ed that he will not deign to col­lab­o­rate with Scors­ese. Even when meet­ing no less than Bill Clin­ton, he only wants to talk about whether or not the light­ing will dis­tract from his per­for­mance. But to be fair, The Rolling Stones hit the big time long before either Scors­ese or Clin­ton, so per­haps Jagger’s van­i­ty may be par­tial­ly excused. Let it not be said that the old codgers in the band don’t embrace new tech­nol­o­gy; wit­ness as Jag­ger strikes clas­sic pos­es for fans in the front row to cap­ture on their mobiles.

Keith Richards and Buddy Guy in The Rolling Stones Shine a LightKeef jams with Bud­dy “Moth­er­fuck­er” Guy

Scors­ese is famous­ly a fan, uti­liz­ing Rolling Stones tunes in his sound­tracks so often that Jag­ger now jokes that “Shine a Light was the only film of his not to fea­ture the song Gimme Shel­ter.” I like The Stones well enough, but I’m not a huge fan. Here’s what a sim­i­lar­ly casu­al lis­ten­er might learn of them based on Shine a Light:

  • Char­lie Watts, also a suc­cess­ful artist and jazz drum­mer out­side of the Stones machine, comes across as quite dis­tract­ed, almost to the extent of appear­ing senile (or maybe even more drug-addled than Kei­th Richards). He behaves the same in vin­tage inter­views scat­tered through­out Shine a Light, so per­haps it’s just his nat­ur­al demeanor. But there’s no doubt he can still rock his stripped-down drum kit.
  • Mick Jag­ger still has the body of a pre­teen girl, albeit one with impres­sive­ly ripped arms.
  • Every­body knows the leg­endary Kei­th Richards has abused his body to such an extent that he has no busi­ness still walk­ing this earth. He jokes in the film that he must come from hardy stock, but maybe he is in fact already dead, see­ing as how he bare­ly notices a kiss from Christi­na Aguil­era. He still has chops, though, beyond going through the high­ly rehearsed motions of a typ­i­cal Stones spec­ta­cle. In a telling moment, the cam­era catch­es him alone, play­ing some moody blues licks to him­self as the rest of the band hob­nobs.
  • Ron­nie Wood comes across the best, remind­ing fans that although Kei­th Richards may have co-writ­ten many of the most pop­u­lar and endur­ing rock songs of all time, he’s the one that plays all the solos.

Scors­ese includes him­self as a char­ac­ter in his own film, appear­ing at least twice in a char­ac­ter­is­tic track­ing shot that caps the film: fol­low­ing the Stones off­stage and out of the the­ater, and fly­ing up into the night sky over New York. The world will have to wait for Scorsese’s true doc­u­men­tary on the Stones to equal No Direc­tion Home and Liv­ing in the Mate­r­i­al World as a true fan’s deep look into some of the world’s most inter­est­ing celebri­ties.

Offi­cial movie site:

Buy any of these fine prod­ucts from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report: