05 November 2008

Martin Scorsese 'Shines a Light' on The World's Most Once-Dangerous Band That's Still Around




"Champagne and Reefer" ( -- McKinley Morganfield) (featuring Buddy Guy)

'This Will Be the Only Scorsese Movie Without Gimme Shelter in the Sountrack'
( -- quip by Sir Mick Jagger regarding Shine a Light (film))

Sometimes, for this wanna-be professor of rock film, the ironies the Rolling Stones have amassed in their 45 year-and-going-strong run are almost overwhelming. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a Stones fan for 35 years and have studied Scorsese's work for a quarter century. Now, instantly transforming myself from fan to critic, I gotta try to "... stick my knife right down [their] throat, and baby, and it hurts!"

Shine a Light (2008, film) slams me with responsibility I don't want. I just wanna enjoy the film. But my gosh darn "boy scout" ethics force me to muster whatever objectivity I can find in discussing this major rock film -- this collaboration by auteur Scorsese and these rock pioneers (and the cast of hundreds of technicians and musicians and inspirational artists that fuel their jets).

In a vain attempt to
demonstrate some objectivity, I observe that Ms. Christina Aguilera wishes we saw her public persona as a street-wise tramp credible, but she has no business on this stage: she would run screaming from the 1968 Jagger dreamscape nightmare of an apartment Sir Mick creates in the edge-of-madness-and-joy anthem "Live With Me" -- fake-skank at it's worst. On the other hand, guest contributor here, the Paullinator (a real musician), loved her performance in the film -- c'est la vie! You gotta make your own call on this one, I got bigger fish to fry -- and (drumroll):

Top Five Rock Films of All Time (in order):

1. The Last Waltz
2. Gimme Shelter
(documentary) (see Gold Coast Bluenote posts Part I and Part II)
3. Woodstock (Director's Cut)
4. Shine a Light
5. No Direction Home (documentary).

Honorable Mention: Festival Express, Hard Day's Night, This Is Spinal Tap, Rattle and Hum, High Fidelity

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Shine a Light

Scorsese does it again folks, and all the time battling the headwinds of Sir Mick's ego. Analysis: of those "top five films" above, three were made and one was edited in part (Woodstock) by Martin Scorsese -- this body of work on rock definitively demonstrates two things: Scorsese is the man when it comes to rock 'n' roll film making; second, the Scorsese-heavy top five list above demonstrates conclusively why it ain't "only rock and roll".
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Some Details:
  • "Under My Thumb" is both the soundtrack and documentary theme of the first ten minutes of pre-show mania. From both a flatbed truck promoting the tour on the streets of Chicago, and in Scorsese's first soundtrack album cut, Marty and Co. turn the cleave lights on The Glimmer Twins doing their eternal rock n' roll machine.
  • Jagger does his prima donna routine in front of, and at, Marty, putting his hubris on display so Marty can call him on it. Who's under whose thumb, anyway? Revealingly, Jagger is relentless doing his job, and Marty's patience appears boundless.
  • Almost everything here is the best live versions of these particular songs in films (I've been studying the old Stones concert movies and original studio tracks), e.g. Jumpin' Jack Flash (see below), Shattered (only better live when I saw them in '78), All Down the Line (Ronnie finally gets a chance to strut his stuff), Loving Cup (first time in film set list), and Just My Imagination (the horn arrangement makes it transcendent).
  • The "wave-riff" Keef and Mick Taylor weave in the studio version of Tumblin' Dice on Exile on Main Street is unsurpassable. Word up. Even here, the Exile original remains the definitive version of this classic. But here, with Ronnie on fire, Darryl Jones rolling the bass riff even better than Bill Wyman's effort on the original -- add Scorsese icing this cake with his choreographed editing, and this, mates, is the best Tumblin' Dice can be captured live.
  • Shine a Light shows a whole new Keef -- the happy ole man whose "Glad to be Here, Glad to Be Anywhere!" Mick Taylor and Brian Jones are unknown to most folks under 50, except, of course, my Godson "Captain Happy" (I am so proud of him!). Captain Happy gave me the inside scoop on Jack White, guest guitarist and duet vocalist on "Loving Cup": that would be Jack White of The White Stripes (Grammy winners for their last three albums, each record winning the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album (source: Wikipedia contributors)). White is letter perfect singing this duet of acoustic rock poetry with Jagger, with a smile on White's face showing he is realizing the dream of a lifetime. And his performance shows it -- he stands toe to toe with Jagger every note of the way through yet another Exile on Main Street deep album cut cover. (Capt. Happy reports further that he really liked The White Stripes' album Elephant.) (Anyone who thinks I digress here, just check out all the talent the Stones have toured with over the past four decades, bringing forgotten superstars and rising talent to their audiences. If the Stones are guilty of being a little too capitalist, they are all about promoting music their audience needs to hear.)
  • Jumpin' Jack Flash starts the set with Scorsese directing on the fly -- he gets the set list about two seconds before Keith hits the first chord, and Scorsese elegantly captures Keith flying across the stage getting the festivities under way. (I just bought the "Though the Past, Darkly" CD and have been listening to the original, all of it, for a comparison. They were a much more dangerous band back then. Now, it's really only rock and rock, great as it is. Back then it was still a revolution in our minds.)
  • You may notice that you never see anything but the entire Beacon Theatre stage lit perfectly throughout the film. As with the "Last Waltz" lighting, that is Scorsese at work. He is obsessive about his lighting, only stopping short of burning Jagger to get a particular lighting effect. "We want the effect, but we can't burn Mick Jagger," Scorsese quips to his lighting technician in the opening pre-concert segment of the film. Though the lighting in "Last Waltz" is superb, the lighting of the theatre here is perfect. You don't always notice, but it is always right. Again, Scorsese sets a new standard for the rock film genre.
  • DO NOT see "Shine a Light" in IMAX. Bent Guitar necks, wrinkles 8 inches long, grainy archival footage, flash editing by Scorsese that works fine in other formats -- just skip the IMAX.
  • For Stones addicts -- buy the DVD with the baby food money, NOW. Not tomorrow, now.
  • Across the Rest of the Universe -- see this film; its high point is in the clip above. Covering Muddy Waters' "Champagne and Reefer" with the Stones, Buddy Guy's lead breaks add a Chicago blues meltdown -- dude, Buddy burns the silver screen down. Jagger takes his harp playing to new heights because Buddy is staring him down: "Go on man, show me your stuff." A rare role for Keith emerges as he doesn't have to front the guitar work and gets to play fills, completely entranced by Guy's mojo. Keith then follows an old tradition of giving a guest performer your guitar if the guest artist tears up the main act's stage. This operatic moment closes with Guy humbly walking off stage, smiling, and all the while Scorsese and his boom mikes catching every detail. This is truly a performance for the ages.
"Shine a Light" will be the definitive document on a remarkable band. Hats off to Martin Scorsese, The Glimmer Twins, and both of their teams here. This film rewrites the book on how to make a rock n' roll concert movie.

Epigram: I can't get out without mentioning the last bit of Scorsese magic -- it's the closing steady-cam shot of the film, and just remember "Up, Up!"

2 comments:

King Bishop said...

Pac,
I wanted to throw this by you.... Today at work I heard one of my fave Stones tunes, and while I'm not that big a fan of theirs as you are, I just wondered what your fave Stones tunes were. Here's my top ten
1 Have you Seen Your Mother(Standing in the Shadows?)
2 Paint It Black
3 She's A Rainbow
4 Mother's little Helper
5 Wild Horses
6 If You Can't Rock Me
7 Dandelion
8 Let It Bleed
9 Dancin' With Mr. D
10 Get off My Cloud
( not necessarily in that order)

Paco Malo said...

Because I learned guitar on the simple chords of "Wild Horses", I am still giving it a rest, though I recently re-entered that world as I try to understand Gram Parsons' influence on the Stones -- Gram, as I hear it, inspired that arrangement. In it's place add "Tumbling Dice." Other than that, that list will do just fine; our tastes are clearly in sinc. As an ex-pro, you should give another listen to "Torn and Frayed" off "Exile" -- I also dig "Moonlight Mile", "Factory Girl", "Stray Cat Blues", and some very obscure and bootleg stuff.

As to "Have yo see yo mama turning tricks, on the corner, baby" let's leave that at number one with a bullet. Also, dump Mick and give me Keith's "Don't Take it So Hard" 8 days a week.

'The Sinner who is a Saint'