Shine a Light (2008) • USA • Martin Scorsese

The Good: the film is staged, shot, lit and (visually) edited extremely well; Mick Jagger has emerged from his tunnel of self-parody and carries the film on his energetic old man shoulders, his voice as strong and as accurate as ever, his lithe little body defying all the rules that apply to most sixty-plus year old bodies; they don't play any of the crap music they've written in the past few decades, sticking to oldies and standards.

The Bad: the Rolling Stones suck as a rock and roll band now, a guitar driven rock and roll band, that is; Keith Richards is mesmerizing in a "What is that thing?" kind of way, but as a guitar player, nope. The unfriendly way to put it would be to say he's lost his chops or has forgotten how to play all the riffs that made him one of the greatest rock songwriters of all time. The friendly way to put it would be to say he doesn't know the difference between what he feels and what he plays—all the riffs and rhythms circulate through his bloodstream perfectly but the technology doesn't exist to send them through the sound reproduction system so all we get is what pulses to his finger tips—all we hear is his accompaniment to his inner self. His approximations to the riffs of "Tumblin' Dice" and "Brown Sugar" are almost forgivable but his butchering of "Start Me Up" is not.

Ronnie Wood. He may be a fine guitar player but he doesn't play well with others. It's as if he doesn't listen to, or hear, what other members of the band are doing. A couple of the film's highlights are the two songs Keith sings featuring Ronnie as the sole guitarist. He plays great acoustic (slide) guitar on "You Got the Silver" and rocks well on "Connection." Throw him into the mix and he plays junk. As soon as you want to excuse either Keith or Ronnie because they are old, Buddy Guy, seventy-plus years old, comes on stage and makes clear what it sounds like when the first thing a good guitar player does is listen to what other people in the band are doing.

The Beautiful: Mick singing "As Tears Go By" accompanied by Keith on 12-string acoustic. Perfect.

The Bizarre: with the caveat that I watched and listened to this film on a standard television set so I don't know what the Dolby 5.1 sounds like, the audio mixing practice of boosting the sound level of the performer in the visual edit, down to single notes sometimes, sounds ridiculous. Luckily, Mick was the visual focus of most of the film, his vocals out front and clear.

The Disappointment: "Lovin' Cup" sans piano. Terrible.

The best parts of the film, and by that I mean the best songs in the film, are the minimal, simpler ones. It's too bad there aren't enough of them. Mick Jagger can channel himself channeling himself all night long, he can be double-plus-good, but he doesn't have a band behind him any more. By showcasing the band's relationship to its music as product delivered to an audience, an audience of hand-picked, paid extras that also includes Bill and Hilary Clinton, Scorsese doesn't shine a light or bring any new insight to the Rolling Stones in this film.



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