A Film Review
By Anthony Kuzminski
Fifteen-minutes into the start of Shine A Light the IMAX screen transposes from only using a portion of the screen into a full blown affair with the band jump starting the ferocious “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”; Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood’s flash their guitars like switch blades, Charlie Watts drum beat is adept, swift and downright dirty while the ever ostentatious Mick Jagger coasts on stage like a general leading his troops into battle with more drive than most musicians two generations removed. This is a band of soldiers united ready to fight not just the battle but the war. Who are they fighting? In short, every naysayer who has blasted the band since the 1960’s saying their popularity had peaked and would never last. By the end of the film, it’s safe to say the band was beyond victorious. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the show…the world’s greatest rock n’ roll band; The Rolling Stones.It is almost fruitless to write about the Rolling Stones as they’re the world’s preeminent rock n’ roll band no matter how you feel about them. They’ve done it all and are still managing to do it today. As their new IMAX film, Shine A Light flies into theaters we’re reminded just why they continue to defy expectations and not fall into a category labeled nostalgia. I was fortunate to see five of the shows on their last tour spreading a thirteen month period. Each and every night they never ceased to astonish me with their fountain of youth mentality that makes these songs continually refreshing, imperative and relevant. It’s with this vivacity that the band set out to capture the band at this moment in time on film so future generations of rockers in their sixties will watch with mouths agape. To ensure they get it right, they enlisted the help of director Martin Scorsese whose skilled camera and intense drive for intimacy deliver a film and performance unlike any in the band’s forty-six year career. Ironically, back in April 1998, I witnessed the Stones in an arena for the first time and the intimacy compared to the vastness of stadiums I had become used to make it feel like I was seeing them in a club. A day later I ventured to Indiana to present my senior thesis, Martin Scorsese: The Great American Narrator. Ten years to the month later, the Stones and Scorsese are headlining IMAX screens across the world; the world’s most preeminent rock n’ roll band and the greatest living director.Now when I saw U2 3D earlier this year, I thought about Shine A Light and how the Stones made a mistake to delay the film from September 2007 to April 2008. I didn’t believe there was any way the Stones film could hold up to the U2 one. The U2 film is a wholly unique and state of the art experience for the 3D format, but we must remember that the Rolling Stones first embraced IMAX in the early 90’s and with Scorsese and nine Oscar winners and nominee’s manning the cameras (including Albert Maysles the director of Gimme Shelter. I’m happy to say that Shine A Light is every bit as engrossing and engaging as U2 3D. Scorsese captured the film with raw, intense and staggering detail that will be viewed as one of the definitive performance pieces in decades to come. The last time the Stones roared across the silver screen (or the IMAX screen in this instance) the band was slick, speedy and the most rehearsed they would ever be. This time around, they’re rough, edgy and real which can be detected best in the stellar mix which finds the band at their most aggressive, raw and intimate. There are close-ups on Keith’s guitar where you can hear and feel every chord…even the missed and screwed up ones. This is the beauty of the Rolling Stones where no two performances are ever the same. Don’t look for dialed and domestic performances when you fork your money over, expect the unexpected where they can even make the warhorses feel novel and modern.The film begins with the planning of the two shows in the weeks leading up to the show involving the band, their handlers and most importantly Martin Scorsese. Scorsese builds the anticipation of the show with a calming black and white partial screen effect, rehearsals, comical discussions regarding the set list and stage and an array of visitors to the show including President Bill Clinton. It provides a fascinating “fly on the wall” atmosphere where we can see these musicians with their guard down when they’re not on stage. For as big as the Rolling Stones are, the film captures the pure essence of who they are and what they want to accomplish. However, when show time comes, the band and Scorsese take no prisoners. I guarantee you that the first two performances will leave you blinded as the intensity of the band and the camera put you right in the thick of the action. Even if you had a ticket in the front row of the Beacon for one of these shows, it’s highly unlikely that the experience was even remotely as prevailing or tremendous as this film.The song selection isn’t obvious or off kilter, but is scrupulously chosen to be a ideal representation of what they’ve performed live since the 1994 Voodoo Lounge tour; meticulously melding the warhorses (“Brown Sugar”, “Satisfaction”) with deep albums cuts (“All Down The Line”, “Shattered”) and the occasional rarity (“Loving Cup”, “Connection”). Before their most current tour, “As Tears Go By” had never been performed live and “She Was Hot” from 1983’s Undercover received its first ever live airing just two-weeks prior to the filming. One would never know as the performance was as spot-on as “Start Me Up”. Ironically, “Start Me Up” and “She Was Hot” are the only songs represented between 1980 and 2006. “Back of Your Hand” appears to have been rehearsed and considered and it’s a shame as this would have proven to be the most appropriate event for the song. “As Tears Go By” is goose bump inducing to see a band rediscover a lost gem which to any other artist it would be their flagship song.The country flavored “Faraway Eyes” finds the band at their most plaintive and endearing. I remember seeing this song back in 2002 at one of the first Licks shows and it was a number I never imagined seeing in a million years. “Some Girls” is biting and sneering while “Just My Imagination”, a Temptations cover, finds the band exuberant beyond words. No one on the planet does covers like the Stones. The R&B twinge in Jagger’s vocal makes the song definitively a swaggering Stones pop ditty that while not a song one would normally associate with the Stones, it immediately grabs you and never let’s go. Keith Richard’s solo spots are included as well which featured a down and dirty “You’ve Got the Silver” and the rhythmic jolt of the long forgotten “Connection” from the band’s 1967 album Between The Buttons. How many other bands can successfully meld covers, country, rock, pop and the blues so effortlessly?The guest spots are largely bulletproof with none of the special guests overpowering or interfering with the song choice. Jack White merely complimented Jagger’s vocals on “Loving Cup”, while Christina Aguilera unleashes teasing sexual tension on “Live With Me” while Buddy Guy steals the spotlight during “Champagne & Reefer”. Say what you want about the Stones but they have never forgotten their true influences and throw them into the spotlight every chance they get even if someone like Guy suddenly becomes the center of attention as he does on this number. In between the performance footage there is an array of vintage footage of the band commenting on their music, the band, their attitude and how they’ve survived. This is a particularly joyous experience that widens smiles in the theater providing comic relief. However, there was one particularly moving moment of Keith Richards from 1978 and even though I want to tell you about it, I won’t as it’s a deeply poignant moment that in my mind brings the bands entire career full circle.The films reaches its stride when Jagger very theatrically comes through the crowd for a spellbinding “Sympathy For The Devil”, the almost forgotten outtake turned into stadium anthem “Start Me Up”, the tidal waves of “yeah, yeah, yeah woo’s” on the insurrectionary “Brown Sugar” and a rip-roaring finale of “Satisfaction” which despite being nearly forty-five years old still never fails to bring the house down. There are those who feel the Stones best days are behind them and while I wasn’t alive to see them with Mick Taylor or Brian Jones, I’ve seen enough documentation, listened to enough bootlegs to say this is the rare band who has improved with age like a fine wine. When the band’s primordial instincts take over on the opening number “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, I’d dare you to tell me you’ve ever seen this song performed with more vigor and determination. They don’t embody rock n’ roll…they are rock n’ roll and Martin Scorsese wondrously captured this for future generations to witness. Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer whose daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.