(2008)4Perry SeibertThe Rolling Stones are no strangers to celluloid. Their celebrated, occasionally infamous career has been saved for posterity every step of the way by some of the most formidable filmmakers of all time. Jean-Luc Godard, Hal Ashby, and the Maysles all offered up their take on the danger, the swagger, the damage, and the glory of the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band. While each of those filmmakers did something unique and memorable, it took Martin Scorsese to figure out how to make a film about the aspect of band that matters most -- that they are men who love to play music. By filling the oversized IMAX screen with the weathered, leathered faces of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ron Wood, Scorsese never lets his audience forget that these men have lived the kind of lives that give these powerful songs their visceral kick. They have earned the right to play these songs not because they wrote them, but because they feel them as strongly as ever. An old chestnut like "As Tears Go By" means so much more coming from a sixtysomething Jagger than from the twentysomething who wrote it, primarily because he seems to care about the song now even more than he did then.
Of all the Rolling Stones concert films, Shine a Light offers the greatest argument that Jagger might be the best frontman in Rock history. While his authoritative sexuality was teasing and dark in the '60s and '70s, it mutated into near self parody in the next two decades. Time being on his side, Jagger in his sixties doesn't so much seem a dirty old man as just a dirty man who still enjoys the art of tempting and teasing his audience, his bandmates, and himself. IMAX might be the only format that can fully communicate the sheer amount of commitment that goes into every one of his movements. He could seemingly go on forever.
Working as a contrast to Jagger's relentless energy is the stoic realism of Charlie Watts. There are very few out-of-shape drummers, because it's the one instrument in a Rock band you need physical stamina to play over the course of a concert. At one point in the show, Watts looks directly into the camera and lets out an exhausted sigh. It's a small moment, but one loaded with meaning. In that quick instant you realize that for all of Mick's boundless enthusiasm, the Stones are not immortal. Charlie has not lost a beat, but looking at him that spent so early in the evening, you understand that one shouldn't take this band for granted ever again.
That leaves Keith Richards. He could drop dead on stage, or he might live another 100 years, and either way he will continue to do what he has always done -- play music, preferably with Ron Wood at his side. And the music is why Shine a Light matters a great deal. From the still-relevant "Satisfaction," to the urgency of "She Was Hot," to the longing "Just My Imagination," the perfectly constructed setlist showcases everything The Rolling Stones do well. They still appreciate their own gifts, but have not grown so bloated that they can't share the stage. The three guest stars that show up underscore the band's flexibility. Jack White III harmonizes with Mick on "Loving Cup," and it wouldn't have sounded out of place on the album he produced for Loretta Lynn. Christina Aguilera matches Mick grind for grind as well as note for note in a duet on "Live With Me" that would be funny if it weren't treated with such commitment by both of them. And blues legend Buddy Guy joins the boys for an authoritative rendition of "Champagne & Reefer" that offers ample proof of the Stones chops -- as far as traditional blues numbers go it's equal to the legendary Muddy Waters performance in the other great Scorsese concert film The Last Waltz.
There is something to recommend about every Rolling Stones documentary. The cult classic Cocksucker Blues forever captured the most excessive aspects of their life, Gimme Shelter showcased the group's skill as well as the occasionally dangerous power of their music, and even Let's Spend the Night Together puts Mick's inclination for pomp on the big screen. But Shine a Light captures where the band is 45 years into their careers, capturing their ability to be larger than life, while staying intimately connected to each other through the music. Scorsese records for posterity the band member's connections to each other, to music, and to their audience, making Shine a Light a ferociously entertaining movie.