True to the proverb that a rolling stone gathers no moss, the world's oldest rock band, the Rolling Stones, has continued to seduce, sashay, record and defy the notion that rock stars have an expiration date.
And what better man to memorialize the still-kicking Stones than Martin Scorsese, a spark plug of infernal energy himself, whose creative fire still burns white hot.
Shine a Light is Scorsese's documentary on the eternal rock band whose music has often papered his own films. The director's second feature, Mean Streets, used the Stones to add a luster of bad-boy sexual braggadocio to his penny-ante punks. The Stones have continued to serve Scorsese well, their music illuminating his tales of machismo run amok and the dark allure of crime.
Though in essence a concert film, Shine a Light opens behind the scenes as Scorsese frets the details of the Stones' set list for a 2006 concert at New York City's Beacon Theatre, the setting itself a shout-out to old-school charm. The band's all there – loosey-goosey Mick Jagger, petulant Charlie Watts, dark knight Keith Richards and his buddy/acolyte Ron Wood. They rehearse, unfazed by Scorsese's panicky energy, and Jagger jokes about the venue: "It looks like a doll's house."
Bill Clinton pops up at the rehearsal, nearly outshining the cool kids in an oddball detente between rock and political superstars. Handshakes are doled out, relatives introduced, photos taken. Clinton's entourage includes the former president of Poland. The band members belie their bad-boy image with courtly good manners even when greeting the little old ladies in Clinton's camp.
Despite the early black-and-white scenes of Scorsese laying bare the device, the film's real impact comes in color footage of the band performing. It's an impressive sight to watch men well into their Viagra years still rocking out. Nowadays, the band's dark glamour has settled into something more complex. At times they look like the kind of men found clustered around a working-class bar, their gaunt faces etched from hard living. At other moments, Jagger, clothed in sequins, suggests an older dame trying to juice up her sex appeal with some flash.
Looking like nothing so much as a lollipop on a stick, elbows and knees akimbo, Jagger scrolls through decades of classics: "Shattered," "As Tears Go By," "Far Away Eyes," "Jumping Jack Flash," "Satisfaction," but also pairs up with new-jack talent such as Jack White of the White Stripes and Christina Aguilera. Bluesman Buddy Guy also joins Jagger for a powerful duet of Muddy Waters' "Champagne and Reefer," both singers oozing sex and charisma.
Shine a Light's final impact may be a surprising one. Asserting their right to continue doing something they love, the Rolling Stones defy the popular notion that fun, cool and rebellion age out. Early interviews with the band members in their prime where they imagine rocking into their 60s prove that age doesn't diminish one's talents or creative drive, a notion backed up by another recent concert film, U2 3D.
The Rolling Stones still rock. Their enthusiasm hasn't dwindled, and that in itself is remarkable. A tribute to staying power – both the Stones', and undoubtedly also Scorsese's – the film is more a fan's-eye view of the band in performance than Scorsese's chance to wow with his auteur chops.
"The weird thing is, we love what we do," Richards says, and Shine a Light makes you believe it.
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