Rolling Stones: Shine a Light
Paramount // PG-13 // $39.99 // July 29, 2008
Review by Chris Neilson | posted July 29, 2008
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In theory, Shine a Light should be a concert film for the ages. It features the Rolling Stones, a band now celebrated as much for its longevity as for its music, playing New York City's historic 2800-seat Beacon Theatre, a venue far more intimate than the amphitheaters the Stones usually book. The film is helmed by Martin Scorsese who has not only evidenced a deep and abiding love for the Stones through his many film soundtracks, but has also proven himself to be a preeminent concert filmmaker with his unforgettably electrifying The Last Waltz (1978), documenting the Band's last gig. Scorsese has also enlisted a small army of master-level cinematographers under the leadership of director of photography Robert Richardson (JFK), including Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood), Andrew Lesnie (Lord of the Rings), Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men), Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter), John Toll (Braveheart), and a dozen others.

With so much going for it, it's a shock how lackluster Shine a Light actually is. The film opens promisingly enough with black-and-white footage of behind-the-scenes preparations for the concert, leading into a pre-show schmooze with the Stones and Bill and Hillary Clinton, but as if already preparing an excuse for a mediocre film, much of the twelve-minute pre-show prologue concerns Scorsese's efforts to pin Jagger down on the set list. As contrived, that set list is finally rushed to Scorsese just as the Stones take the stage. With the don't-blame-me-I-just-work-here excuse firmly established the film moves into the concert, with no further appearances of Scorsese until the final seconds of the film.

The venerable Stones open with "Jumpin' Jack Flash" which is a mistake. Unfortunately, the crowd is warmed up long before Jagger, who's still working the stiffness out of his joints when the song ends. By midway through the second song, "Shattered", Jagger's a bit looser in the hips, but already beginning to gasp for air. Mercifully, the rock tracks soon give way to more bluesy numbers providing Jagger an opportunity to recover before the final third of the concert has him panting again.

The guest lineup for the show begins with Jack White of the White Stripes who duets with Jagger on the blues-toned "Loving Cup" off the Stones' superb 1972 album Exile on Main Street. The high point though comes midway through the concert when legendary bluesman Buddy Guy joins the Stones to play Muddy Water's classic "Champaign and Reefer". Keith Richards, Jagger, and Guy obviously know of what they sing here, and this performance is everything one could hope for. By contrast, the final duet with Christina Aguilera on "Live With Me", is a bit of an embarrassment with 63-year-old Jagger having mixed success trying to bump and grind in sync with the 26-year-old pop starlet.

Jagger's performance in "Sympathy for the Devil" is even more embarrassing than that of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" or "Live With Me" because here it's not his body that's betraying him, but rather his sensibilities. Jagger's frequent "woo-woo's" have never sounded worse, but just when one must wonder whether he's totally lost it, the ghastly "woo-woo's" finally subside.

There are no backstage looks during the performance, and Scorsese forgoes the opportunity to cut to Bill and Hillary during "Champaign and Reefer". In fact, Scorsese never offers more than an inadvertent glimpse of any audience member other than the rows of adoring nubile vixens planted just in front of the stage. If common sense didn't argue otherwise, it'd be hard to guess that surely most of the audience is old enough to get the senior discount.

Scorsese tries to make up for the spryness the Stones have lost in their step with franticly quick cuts from one camera angle to another; with the extreme close-up being the preferred shot. In fact, so frequently did the camera come to rest on an extremely tight view of Jagger's mouth, I could now pick his upper-right bridgework out of a police lineup if need be.

Scorsese chooses to use archival footage of the Stones to weave together the various songs recorded over two nights at the Beacon Theatre. A clip of a twenty-one year old Jagger musing that the Stones probably have at least another year in them is humorous, but the collective effect of the repeated look back is to kill the very possibility of seeing this performance as anything more than a nostalgic coda for the Rock-and-Roll institution that was the Rolling Stones.

The Set List:

Jumpin' Jack Flash
She Was Hot
All Down the Line
Loving Cup
with Jack White
As Tears Go By
Some Girls
Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
Far Away Eyes
Champagne and Reefer
with Buddy Guy
Tumbling Dice
You Got the Silver
Sympathy for the Devil
Live With Me
with Christina Agulera
Start Me Up
Brown Sugar
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

The theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio is preserved on this dual-layered Blu-ray Disc release. Archival material is understandably of variable quality, but the new material looks excellent with the only noticeable flaw being occasional minor edge enhancement. The 1080p image is otherwise sharp and well detailed, with excellent coloration providing deep blacks and perfect flesh tones.

This Blu-ray Disc release of Shine a Light offers Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, as well as an uncompressed 24 bit/96kHz linear PCM 2.0 stereo option. The two 5.1 options are flawlessly crisp, providing a fully immersive soundscape with impressive directionality: Jagger center, Ronnie Wood to the left, Keith Richards to the right, with Charlie Watts' drums spreading out from the front, and reverberating off the back of the theater returning through the surrounds along with crowd noise.

The 2.0 option sounds far better than any CD, but understandably pales in comparison to either of the 5.1 options.

Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and French.

The bonus materials are all presented in high definition with 5.1 sound. A fifteen-minute featurette includes additional archival and pre-show footage with the Rolling Stones along with Bill Clinton, Buddy Guy, and documentarian Albert Maysles. Four bonus performances, "Undercover of the Night", "Paint it Black", "Little T&A", and "I'm Free", are also included.

The theatrical trailer for Shine a Light is not included among the extras.

Final Thoughts:
While I prefer to rewatch Maysles Brothers' Gimme Shelter (1970), and remember the Rolling Stones as they were before vitality gave way to ritual, I realize there are still plenty of Boomers out there not ready to let the Stones fade away just yet. For them, this Blu-ray Disc release of this more-or-less straight concert film is recommended for its flawless sound, and near-perfect image.

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