Exile On Mean Street Part II – Shining A Light On Scorsese & The Stones Yet Again…

At the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year Mick Jagger made the joke before anybody else could: “I want you to know that SHINE A LIGHT is the only (Scorsese) film that ‘Gimme Shelter’ isn’t played in.” I had written before about Martin Scorsese’s Stones obsession with “Gimme Shelter” singled out in Exile On Mean Street – Or Scorsese & The Stones Together Again (October 22nd, 2006). In that post I speculated about the proposed concert film/doc and how it may capture the definitive performance of “Gimme Shelter” – well alas, as Jagger quipped this is not to be. No matter – the prospect of America’s greatest director taking on the greatest rock band in the world (just go with their own self generated hype on this will you?), in a ginormous IMAX feature no less, is enough to wipe away such pop culture pigeon-holing persnickety. So let’s get on to the show:

SHINE A LIGHT (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2008)

The Rolling Stones are no strangers to being the cinematic subject of famously impulsive control-freak film makers. Jean-Luc Godard, The Maysles Brothers, and Hal Ashby have had their turns at capturing the legendary rockers on celluloid but now the British hitmakers have met their match with Martin Scorsese – not because he is a more of a meticulously-minded master director than those luminaries but because he is more of a giddy hardcore fan of the band in the spotlight. As the film begins in grainy black and white Scorsese is seen scurrying around trying to get the setlists for the 2 Stones shows at New York’s Beacon Theater he is preparing to shoot, with 18 cameras * mind you, and comically getting the rock star brush-off from frontman Mick Jagger. This opening has a frenetic almost SPINAL TAP-ish quality to it but when the Stones hit the stage splashing into full color with the picture expanding to the full screen I was swept up into the cross-fire hurricane of the ferociously jolting “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”.

* Helmed by such cinematographers and behind the scenes A-listers as Robert Elswit, Robert Richardson, John Toll, Emmanuel Lubezki and Albert Maysles (GIMME SHELTER!)

As the Glimmer Twins (the nickname and producing credit of Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards) and their mates tear through their classics (“Sympathy For The Devil”, “Brown Sugar”, “Start Me Up”, etc.) and a few obscurities for the faithful (like “Far Away Eyes” for one) Scorsese’s cameras swoop down and around the band, barely ever pausing to rest lest anyone would get bored with a shot. Scorsese’s scrupulous sense of timing and exciting effective editing rocks as hard as his subject material making this the best concert film since Jonathan Demme’s STOP MAKING SENSE. It’s awe-inspiring to watch Jagger conducting his fellow Stones, the back-up singers, the audience, and all the cameras into a riotous groove then drive it into a frenzy over and over again. The effect was so powerful and absorbing that I had to refrain myself from clapping at the end of several songs, having to remind myself I wasn’t in the audience at the Beacon – I was just one of a handful of people at an IMAX theater in Raleigh.

The 2 shows (Oct. 29 and Nov. 1, 2006) this film was constructed from were star studded affairs – both onstage and in the audience. Former President Bill Clinton, whose 60th birthday was being celebrated by this charity benefit, introduces the band (which is fitting because he was called the first “Rock ‘N Roll President”) and Bruce Willis can be seen but despite this Scorsese thankfully keeps audience shots at a minimum. What’s more notable is the musical guest stars – blues legend Buddy Guy calmly appears to throw gas on an already raging fire by duetting with Jagger on Muddy Waters’ “Champagne & Reefer” and a starstruck Jack White (from The White Stripes) joins the band for a infectious moving rendition of “Loving Cup”. Christina Aguilera helps bring out the raunch in the lusty “Live With Me” gyrating then grinding with Jagger while long-time Stones sideman Bobby Keys’s saxophone levels out the showbiz sleaze with some pure class. The only minor quibbles I have would be with some of the archival footage from old interviews that serve as segues between some songs. They are brief though and only cut into one song (the Keith Richards sung “Connection”) so they don’t hold up the proceedings much.

Living in a town of snarky hipsters (Chapel Hill, N.C.) I am highly aware that many have long ago dismissed the Stones (especially their recent output) as overplayed Baby Boomer bombast long past its expiration date. I wish those folks would get their bed-heads out of their asses and make the trip to their nearest IMAX theater to see SHINE A LIGHT. It’s as fast paced and exciting a concert experience that can be imagined on the big screen (no, I haven’t seen U2 3D!) and it is powerful enough to re-ignite the fanatic spark in even the staunchest Stones cynic. Sure, they’ve become part of the machine they used to rage against with inflated ticket prices and infinite rehashes of their greatest hits but they’re still THE ROLLING STONES. When these grand old men who can still bring the rock are seen through the loving lenses of Scorsese I doubt many rock movie lovers will complain that they get no satisfaction.

More later…


Okay, I promised some music reviews last week and didn’t post any so here goes :

You could not come up with 2 concert films that are more different from each other than NEIL YOUNG : HEART OF GOLD and AWESOME! I FUCKIN’ SHOT THAT! Jonathan Demme’s work documenting Young’s 2005 Ryman Auditorium performance is straight-forward and polished much like the music it presents. I’m far from a hardcore Young fan – I have I guess what you’d call the essential discs (“Harvest”, “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”, “After The Gold Rush”, “Rust Never Sleeps”, etc.). have seen him live a few times, but over the years have drifted away from his newer releases because of too many same-sounding songs. A few songs into the show – that complaint melts away. With a large band of ace players (including Emmyloo Harris, Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, and wife Pegi Young) Neil plays the Prairie Wind album in its entirety then a smattering of crowd pleasing hits (like the title song especially) and it all sounds sweet to these ears. The DVD has some cool extras most notably a clip of Young on The Johnny Cash Show in 1970. Man, they need to release that show in full!

AWESOME! I FUCKIN’ SHOT THAT! throws out the traditional approach and goes for the jugular – 50 fans are given Hi-8 and digital-video cameras to a Madison Square Garden Beastie Boys show and Adam Yauch’s alter ego Nathaniel Hornblower edits together all their footage into one of the most rowdy, renograde, in your face concert films ever. One of the camera people even films his trip to the bathroom! Whatever your opinion of the Beastie’s music this film is a lot of fun to watch – the split screens, the fast cutting, the wide range of angles, and the sense that the whole arena was pumping and pounding. It does drag a bit at times – the trance instrumental set wasn’t as exciting as other bits but this inventive and punchy concert flick definitely deserves the right to, you know…party.

The best music documentary since Scorcese’s NO DIRECTION HOME : BOB DYLAN in my book (or more accurately on my blog) is definitely THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON. Funny, disturbing, and never dull – the story of bipolar Beatles-obsessed quirky songwriting Devil-fearing Johnston is told by his extensive archive of home made films, audio-cassette diaries, magic marker drawings, and interviews with family and friends. The overwhelming amount available of Johnston’s self documentation pours out of the movie and into the bonus features on the DVD – it takes quite a bit to get through all of it but it is worth every second.

More later…