04 April 2008

Shine a Light

For me, concert films are a mixed bag. To me, it seems counterproductive for a film to try to reproduce the feeling of being at a live performance. It simply can’t work. But that hasn’t stopped people from trying.
Director Martin Scorsese has been in this avenue before, having directed his chronicle of The Band in “The Last Waltz.” His Bob Dylan documentary, “No Direction Home,” worked so well because it was mainly a documentary with some concert footage sprinkled throughout.
But in “Shine a Light,” which many are labeling incorrectly as a documentary, he returns to a more straightforward concert format. It has some interview excerpts between some of the songs, but it is mainly a recording of a concert by The Rolling Stones in New York City as part of their “A Bigger Bang” tour.
The film seems to presuppose a couple of things if you are going to be able to enjoy it. One: you must either consider concert films an accurate similar experience to actually being there, or consider the concert film a different animal altogether but something still worthwhile. And two: you are a Rolling Stones fan.
If you can agree with both statements, then more power to you. This film is for you. I’m not a huge Stones fan, and thus it was not a pleasant experience. My feelings were equal parts indifference, boredom, and, by virtue of seeing it on an IMAX screen, nausea.
That’s not to say it’s badly made. Scorsese knows how to put together a nice looking product, whatever the subject. The opening is the most interesting, chronicling his own efforts to organize the documentary amidst the flurry of preparations for the concert, coupled with a visit by sponsor Bill Clinton and his family and friends.
We see the difficulty he encounters in getting the musicians to commit to a set list, which he finally receives mere seconds before the show begins. We see Mick’s hesitation at the presence of so many cameras. Whether this is all staged is up for debate.
Then the concert kicks in, as did my malaise. The main event is visually frenetic, with quick editing marring some of the momentum that could have contributed to a true-concert-feeling experience. However, seeing the way Jagger moves, it becomes clear that the approach was necessary.
The Stones are great performers, there’s no doubt about that. To have that much energy when they’re that old is a wonder. They all seem to be at the top of their game, and loving the ride. Some guest performers like Jack White and Christina Aguilera pop in to contribute.
Despite the performances, the film just suffers from a lack of a destination. Perhaps it’s just the way I’m used to looking at films. It’s difficult for me to have interest in a film that I realize is going to be the same thing for two hours.
But that said, it’s a relatively unique experience. Be warned though, if you are easily prone to motion sickness, skip the IMAX version. It may be the closest you can get to the real thing, though in my opinion, such an attempt is ultimately futile.

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