'Shine a Light' reveals little but hard-rocking Stones

Posted: April 04, 2008

Martin Scorsese is responsible for one of the great concert films of all time, 1978's The Last Waltz. In it, the Band, about to disband, does an epic swan song, with an A-list roster of guests - Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and Neil Young among 'em - and a bracing, end-of-an-era finality.

Shine a Light, the director's document of a weekend of Rolling Stones shows in New York in 2006, doesn't come close, in part because the group wasn't saying adieu to anyone - Mick, Keith and company were in the midst of their Bigger Bang world tour, and they weren't even remotely thinking of retirement. Despite Scorsese's efforts to pump up some drama - the director, with his signature glasses and Groucho brows, gets huffy about not receiving a set list - drama is sorely lacking. This is just a concert film.

But then, it's just a concert film with one of the most formidable rock bands of all time: Jagger scatting and shouting, prancing furiously, pursing those lips, Richards ripping out wild chords and wiry lead guitar lines, Ron Wood (who, it should be noted, shows up in The Last Waltz) leaning into Richards as they trade flurries of solos, and Charlie Watts providing that thwacking backbeat.

Close up, and captured by a team of Oscar-bedecked cinematographers, the Stones don't exactly look great, but they fascinate. If the movie is about anything apart from the music - early songs like "As Tears Go By" (a standout) to the stutter-step "Shattered" and trademark "Sympathy for the Devil" - it's about growing old, and how Mick and Keith, Ronnie and Charlie, manage that, physically, psychically, creatively. (The concert at the Beacon Theater was in honor of the 60th birthday of Bill Clinton - he, Hillary, Chelsea, and a few friends and relatives get their photo op with the Stones before the show.)

Between songs - which include guest spots by Jack White (dueting with Mick on "Loving Cup"), Buddy Guy (the happily debauched blues number "Champagne and Reefer"), and Christina Aguilera (watch Jagger come alive as the platinum-haired popstress slinks onstage for "Live With Me") - Scorsese splices clips of interviews with the lads from the 1960s and '70s. They're the kind of airport press conferences and old TV music-show chats that are especially telling, weirdly ironic, or just plain amusing in hindsight.

Shine a Light is being presented in Imax at various theaters (including UA King of Prussia), and that's scary: Jagger's rumpled mug bigger than a building, Richards' toothy slo-mo smile wider than a moonlight mile.

Shine a Light **1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Martin Scorsese. With Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood and others. Distributed by Paramount Pictures.

Running time: 2 hours, 2 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (profanity, drug references, adult themes)

Playing at: area theaters

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com.

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