Shine a Light

By the early ’80s, I was finally bored with the Rolling Stones. (I think those coy falsetto croons on ”Emotional Rescue” did me in.) They were — and on some level always would be — the greatest rock & roll band in the world, but aside from ”Start Me Up,” it was getting hard to pretend that the new songs could match the old ones. On stage, Mick Jagger was limber, but he no longer possessed the danger of a rock star — it was more like the energy of an aerobics instructor. But in Shine a Light, a crackling concert movie directed by Martin Scorsese, the Rolling Stones are now so old that they seem new again. They’re no longer ”survivors,” rocking out against time (yawn). That they’re now in their 60s is, if anything, the rock & rolliest thing about them. The Stones aren’t dangerous anymore, but they have a low-down dirty joy, and for a pack of skinny leather-faced geezers in tight pants, that’s enough.

Shine a Light opens with a barrage of footage in which Scorsese and the band dicker back and forth over the set list, and over whether Scorsese can use a swirly, mobile camera. It’s all a bit too transatlantically cute, but then the Stones take the stage of the Beacon Theatre, the baroquely intimate Manhattan concert venue where the movie was shot, on two nights, in 2006. As they launch into ”Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” every chord comes at you in a magnificent, wall-blasting crunch, and the band looks terrifically snaky. Keith Richards now resembles a shrunken head with eyeliner, but his asylum-inmate grin tells you how happy he is to be up there. Mick Jagger, in a spangled shirt and black tuxedo jacket, lets you know the same thing with his hips. More than just vigorous, he is still, beneath those scarred-old-slaver creases, boyish (he has a teenage torso), quivering and prancing like a rooster, a drag queen, a party monster, a devil.

Scorsese’s camera work takes its cue from Mick’s moves: It’s nervous yet centered, leaping across the stage to gape at the singer’s awesome propulsion. That set list is perhaps a little too standard, from the jittery rush of ”Shattered” to the grandeur of ”Tumbling Dice,” from the two-chord monotony of ”Just My Imagination” to the funky pomp of ”All Down the Line.” There are three guest stars, and the film could have used more of them: Jack White blends soulfully with Mick on ”Loving Cup,” Christina Aguilera shakes booty with him on ”Live With Me,” and Buddy Guy helps to turn ”Champagne and Reefer” into incendiary monster blues. Shine a Light is a blistering parade of hot rocks, but it’s never quite startling, like Stop Making Sense, or transcendent, like Scorsese’s The Last Waltz. What it captures is a band that has figured out the best way to endure — by becoming eternal. B+

Shine a Light
  • Movie
  • 121 minutes