|Rolling Stones: Shine a Light|
From The Sunday Times
February 17, 2008
In the great new Martin Scorsese documentary Shine a Light, youll see The Stones up close and personal
Martin Scorsese has said of Shine a Light, his new film about the Rolling Stones: “There’s no more answering of the questions. The questions are always going to be the same, so what’s the answer? The answer is perform, and we’re going to show you the performance.”
As I came out of a screening of the film, a couple of young film hacks were whining that it didn’t “tell us what they’re doing now”. And one review of the Berlin film festival screening moaned that it was “simply another in a long line of concert films”, describing its documentary content as “peripheral and sporadic”.
Film hangers-on being slightly more stupid than the rest of us, you will probably be hearing a lot of this kind of stuff. Don’t listen. Shine a Light will blow you away, as it did me.
It consists primarily of the Stones performing over two nights at the Beacon theatre, New York. They have guests – Buddy Guy, Christina Aguilera, Jack White – but really, this is all about the four surviving (le mot juste) members of the band.
The show material is set up by black-and-white footage of a nerve-racked Scorsese and an aristocratically remote Mick Jagger discussing the set, and lots of vague hanging around. Weirdly, the Clinton clan appear at one point. “The Rolling Stones are waiting for YOU!” Hillary says disbelievingly to Bill. Then the performance footage is interrupted by clips of old interviews with the band. These circle round the theme of passing time. They enhance the sense of celebration and wonder. Against all the odds, against all the ephemerality of youth, against the self-inflicted punishment of the rock life, against Altamont and the death of Brian Jones, the Stones are still rolling. The questions have all been asked; the only answer left is to perform. This is what the Stones do, and this is what Scorsese, supremely, does. “The music stays. And the performance stays. This is something that I found inspiring. So I decided not to interview anybody.”
Scorsese has said he looked for a story for the film, but didn’t find one. In fact, he did. The performances themselves become a story, with extraordinarily vivid characters and songs as chapters. Never has Ron Wood been so Ron, Charlie Watts so Charlie, Mick Jagger so Mick and Keith Richards so, well, Keef. Buddy Guy produces the most moving moment in the film when, after an exquisite solo, Richards simply hands him his guitar. And I just didn’t know Aguilera could be this good. Scorsese hired the best cameramen in the business to shoot the performance, and it shows.
Yet, although the film says so much about the Stones, it says even more about Scorsese. This is, in some very fundamental sense, an autobiography. “When I was growing up,” he has said, “in my neighbourhood, there was music everywhere. In the summer, especially, you could hear the record-players and jukeboxes. They were always outside on the street. One was playing swing and another had ballads. Then somewhere else, say, on the second floor, there was opera. It was like a series of mini-concerts.”
He says the Stones in particular “fuelled” films such as Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Casino. The music made him imagine scenes in movies. We all know about this. People now routinely talk about the “soundtrack of their life”. The car stereo and the iPod give us music everywhere, enhancing, layering and dramatising reality. Scorsese showed us how this works.
He is an operatic director. The Coen brothers, in No Country for Old Men, Paul Thomas Anderson, in There Will Be Blood, and many other contemporary directors have aspired to a pure, stripped-down form of storytelling. Scenes stand alone without any strong sense of directorial manipulation. But Scorsese cannot let anything stand alone. He loads every shot with expressive devices: who can forget Robert De Niro tumbling through flames to the sound of Bach’s St Matthew Passion in the opening sequence of Casino? Or he produces virtuoso, look-at-me camera effects, such as the interminable shot in Goodfellas when Ray Liotta takes Lorraine Bracco into a nightclub, and our own amazement at the shot matches her amazement at the street power of her new boyfriend.
The soundtrack has always been an essential aspect of this manic desire to wring the maximum effect out of every scene. As Scorsese has made clear, the record-players and jukeboxes of his childhood accustomed him, as they did all of us, to the idea that life itself had a soundtrack. Whereas in prerock films music was a self-conscious add-on, in postrock films, thanks largely to Scorsese, it became the natural accompaniment to the action. Mean Streets (1973), the movie that first established Scorsese as a modern master, is simply awash with pop and rock. No fewer than 23 songs – two by the Stones – are listed in the credits. Raging Bull (1980) has 29, Goodfellas (1990) 43, including the Stones’ Gimme Shelter, a track Scorsese can’t seem to live without. It appears most recently in The Departed (2006). These figures aren’t so amazing these days, but that’s because of Scorsese. He is also responsible, I believe, for the pervasive use of pop and rock tracks in advertising.
The point is not just that he used music, but that he did it so well. In the 1930s, in films such as Alexander Nevsky, Eisenstein and Prokofiev laid down the rules for music and movies. For example, they showed – and Eisenstein wrote about – how a single chord could echo the composition of a shot. Scorsese is not that cerebral – he’s too much of a performer – but he is just as great an artist. He doesn’t just chuck in any old tracks: he matches music to scene with impeccable taste. There is no more Scorsesean effect than the hard-rock track, one to which we might imagine ourselves bopping happily, laid over sequences of appalling violence. And, at such moments, there is no more dazzling expression of the discontinuities of modern life.
Meanwhile, Scorsese has punctuated his career with filming, not just using, the music. This part began when he was second unit director on Woodstock (1970), the rock-doc that, for baby-boomers, defined the genre. In The Last Waltz (1978), he filmed the Band’s farewell concert. He was blessed with an unparalleled lineup of stars, from Dylan to Van Morrison, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris. But he didn’t just point and shoot. Through colour, editing and camerawork, he captured the epic sadness of the occasion. It was a farewell to rock innocence. But he also made Michael Jackson’s Bad video, a brilliant gangster/horror short, and, in 2005, No Direction Home, a documentary about Bob Dylan that Scorsese managed to turn into a masterpiece without actually meeting the singer. He is now planning films on the lives of George Harrison and Bob Marley.
There is an obvious theme here: Wordsworthian emotion recollected in tranquillity. A filmed concert is not the thing itself, it is a record of emotional intensity. By rejecting interviews and an excess of documentary content, Scorsese has made the act of recording the whole point of Shine a Light. But, though both films seem to look back, he makes an important distinction between The Last Waltz and this movie. “It’s a very different thing. The Last Waltz was a kind of elegy, looking back... It was more to do with a kind of a... not resignation, but an acceptance of time passing. In Shine a Light, in my mind, the Stones are still immediate. They still are as young [as they were in] the 1960s. They still are as young as the way they appeared in the 1970s. In my mind, Shine a Light is something that’s still of the present time, and is defiant.”
This is the thought of an older man – Scorsese is now 65. (There’s a very funny old-guy moment in the film when some lights come on with a blinding flash and a crashing sound, and he remarks that it has cleared his sinuses.) Where once he might have been content to live with rock and pop as ephemera, he now wants to assert their timelessness and significance. “In my mind,” he says, “I did this film 40 years ago.” But he had actually to make it – to get it out of his mind – to preserve those 40 years.
This is, perhaps, an obvious baby-boomer impulse, the desire to preserve the lives of the postwar generation. “This might,” he says, “give some sense of what it’s like as a working band on stage, for generations to come, for them to see this and appreciate who the band are.” As in the late 1960s, there is a need to insist, through film, that this is not just cheap music. Jean-Luc Godard’s Stones film, Sympathy for the Devil (1968) – which Scorsese regards as a masterpiece – is, in its way, a precursor to Shine a Light. That film also sees the sweaty practice of rock as of lasting significance.
The superior rock doc is a widespread phenomenon at the moment. At Berlin this year, audiences saw Neil Young’s rock doc CSNY Deja Vu, about the 2006 Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young Freedom of Speech tour, protesting against the Iraq war. But the desire to preserve the rock experience on film goes further than that. On the straight performance front, Damon Albarn has brought his cartoon band to life with Gorillaz: Live in Manchester. And there’s Alvi and Moretti’s straight documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad, about Iraq’s only heavy-metal band, Acrassicauda.
As so often with Scorsese, Shine a Light is a technical tour de force, a visceral hit and a film that expands in the imagination. Precisely because of the sheer quality of the filming, one sees Wood, Watts, Jagger and, preeminently, Richards for what they are: extraordinary, exotic, extravagant creatures, adepts of a strange ritual in which we have all, at one time or another, been participants. But it is also an artist’s autobiography, a tale told through feeling rather than event. In the midst of Scorsese’s mean streets, boxing rings, casinos and shoot-outs, there has always been music, there has always been the Stones. That’s the way it was. There’s no more answering of the questions.
Shine a Light opens on April 11. The Rolling Stones will be in London’s Leicester Square on April 2, as Shine a Light premieres simultaneously there and at 100 cinemas across the country via live satellite. Cinemagoers nationwide will experience a Rolling Stones concert as never before – as the fifth member of the band, from the front row and from behind the scenes.
Дата публикации: 11/07/2008
Прочитано: 6186 раз