It was never my intention to watch SHINE A LIGHT, Martin Scorsese's 2008 document of The Rolling Stones' show at the Beacon Theater in NYC. But life, or more specifically Netflix Instant Streaming, has a way of throwing a wrench into the works, and so after adding STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN to my queue I saw this recommended, saw it was available for streaming, clicked the Play button and wound up laying in bed watching the whole thing.
The film opens in grainy black & white as Scorsese frantically scrambles to get everything set up despite being confronted at every turn by Mick Jagger, who doesn't like the idea of cameras getting in the way of his moves and the crowd's view of the show. Scorsese is told that Jagger can't stand under the intense glare of the lights for more than 18 seconds without potentially "burning up", and by the tone of the guy telling him this I think this was supposed to be taken literally. Worst of all, the set list hasn't been decided, and in a great moment an exasperated Scorsese explains he just needs to know the first song so he knows where the cameras should be for the opening shot.
In true cinematic style he gets the set list just as the band takes the stage, the camera moves and the film jumps to brilliant color as the opening riff to "Jumpin' Jack Flash" rumbles like a freight train through the affluent audience. I make this last point because this was supposedly a benefit gig, with President Clinton both in attendance and opening the show, and the crowd seems pleased but with that polite restraint of people who just don't get out and sweat enough at a rock show. This is no way a reflection of Jagger and Company's performance - if anything, I was impressed by how much fun they still seem to be having playing on stage every night. Mixed among the obvious hits were a number of obscure songs and amazing guest appearances, most notably Buddy Guy who sings and solos along to "Champagne and Reefer," a down and dirty blues that features Jagger on harmonica and Guy giving the camera a hilarious killer stare that went on for so long I was cracking up long before he smiled and ripped into his guitar with a glee reserved for legends who've put their time in and know it.
Scorsese has a long and intimate history with live music, and instinctively knows where to put the camera so that you a part of the group rather the crowd. Everything slinks and slides like the signature licks the band's been churning out for over 45 years, and SHINE A LIGHT proves to be a joyful document of a band still bringing it home long after their peers have settled down for the evening.