Scorsese and Stones light up the IMAX

Scorsese’s eyebrows and The Rolling Stone’s lips team up for a strong concert film/documentary

Given the frequency at which he uses Rolling Stones songs in his own films (“Goodfellas,” “Casino,” “The Departed”) it was just a matter of time before Martin Scorsese made a film entirely about the legendary rockers’ songs. The third in a line of Scorsese-directed music films – preceded by “The Last Waltz” (The Band) and “No Direction Home” (Bob Dylan) – “Shine a Light” is much less a documentary than a concert piece. As for the concert itself, despite looking like escapees from a gypsy nursing home, The Stones still manage to deliver a riveting high-energy show. If the film has a flaw, it’s that the sparse documentary-styled departures from the live show seem only to arrive at the same point the concert itself proves the band has immense staying power.

shine a light

DIRECTED BY: Martin Scorsese
STARRING: The Rolling Stones, Bill Clinton, Jack White, Buddy Guy, Christina Aguilera
SHOWING AT: Minnesota Zoo’s Great Clip’s IMAX Theater

Shot in New York’s Beacon Theatre in 2006, the show was a high-priced gala affair for the Clinton Foundation. A far cry from their infamous 1969 Altamont/Hell’s Angels death show, the Stones find their geriatric selves in a far tamer locale that only warranted the film a PG-13 rating. Because they’re a band notorious for debauchery and excess (i.e. the 1972 Stones documentary “Cocksucker Blues”), such hoity eminence detracts from the raucous image the band spent a career cultivating. But, with ages creeping toward 70, it’s hard to fault the established vets for playing a comfortable bourgeoisie affair.

For the shooting, Scorsese hired a gaggle of staggeringly accomplished cinematographers (“There Will be Blood,” “The Thin Red Line,” “Casino”) and used a small army of cameras (16) that make the show a visual gem. Combined with crisp and booming IMAX hi-fidelity sound, the show is a sensory delight (if you ignore the constant visual that is aged and sagging flesh).

The film begins with footage of the iconic director and the iconic band preparing backstage. To keep things interesting, the Stones chose to withhold the set list from Scorsese until moments before the show. Being famously hands-on and playfully neurotic, Scorsese works himself into a fit trying to pry the set list from the band. Presumably sober in their old age, a stunt such as the playlist gag benefits a show that would have otherwise risked being tediously crafted for something as inherently badass as rock ‘n’ roll. After a rather un-rock ‘n’ roll round of hugs with the Clinton family, the band launches into a blazing rendition of “Jumping Jack Flash,” and from there it’s a nonstop riff ‘n’ strut fest.

Throughout the set, Richards’ and Wood’s guitars screech and yelp wildly, Jagger leaps about the stage with impossible energy and Watts capably keeps everything in rhythm from a safe distance away on drums. The band sticks to their classic guns for the most part, but they do break the pace with an occasional country song (“Far Away Eyes”), a couple Richards-fronted numbers (“You Got the Silver”) and three outstanding one-song cameos by Jack White, Buddy Guy and Christina Aguilera. The stage is rounded out with a trio of backup singers, a session bassist and a punchy horn section.

With more than 40 years of recording, touring, interviews and drugs, it’s an astonishing feat the Rolling Stones even have pulses (looking at you, Keith) let alone the ability not to just go through the motions, but to actively deliver an impassioned show. For those audience members lacking the rock wherewithal to endure song after song, Scorsese interjects the set with collections of video spanning the band’s career. These breaks are undeniably enjoyable nostalgic tidbits, but they also prove tonally repetitive, and always seem to arrive at the “These guys have been around forever” conclusion that the world arrived at 20 years ago. After a predictably fitting encore of “Brown Sugar” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” a first-person camera shot weaves out of the venue, then pans over an illuminated New York City and the famous Rolling Stones lips logo appears in the night sky. An undeniably cheesy ending, but after a two-hour barrage of rock, it’s also a tranquil and grin-worthy ending.

Scorsese certainly makes his impact felt through his artfully thoughtful direction of the film, but he also knew to keep his distance. In creating a piece of art with two legends, ego clashes and identity hogging are valid concerns. Luckily, Scorsese was fully aware that the music of The Rolling Stones is the driving force of his film, and arranged around it accordingly. “Shine a Light” could have easily come off as two hours of hyper-stylized and irrelevant dinosaur rock by a lesser band or in lesser hands. But because it boasts both an insuppressibly talented band and an acute director, the film meshes seamlessly and captures the talent and populace appeal of both.