A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
Martin Scorsese's "Shine a Light" may be the most intimate documentary ever made about a live rock 'n' roll concert. Certainly it has the best coverage of the performances onstage. Working with cinematographer Robert Richardson, Scorsese deployed a team of nine other cinematographers, all of them Oscar winners or nominees, to blanket a live September 2006 Rolling Stones concert at the smallish Beacon Theatre in New York. The result is startling immediacy, a merging of image and music, edited in step with the performance.
In brief black-and-white footage opening the film, we see Scorsese drawing up shot charts to diagram the order of the songs, the order of the solos, and who would be where on the stage. This was the same breakdown approach he used with his doc "The Last Waltz" (1978), which would hopefully enable him to call his shots through earpieces of the cameramen, as directors of live TV did in the early days. The challenge this time was that Mick Jagger toyed with the list in endless indecision; we look over his shoulder at titles scratched out and penciled back in, and hear him mention casually that of course the whole set might be changed on the spot. Apparently after playing together for 45 years, the Stones communicate their running order telepathically.
In a sense, this movie marks where Scorsese came in. I remember visiting him in the post-production loft for "Woodstock" in 1970, where he was part of team led by Thelma Schoonmaker who were combining footage from multiple cameras into a split-screen approach that could show as many as three or four images at once. But the Woodstock footage they had to work with was captured on the run, while "The Last Waltz" had a shot map and outline, at least in Scorsese's mind. "Shine a Light" combines his foreknowledge with the versatility of great cinematographers so that it essentially seems to have a camera in the right place at the right time for every element of the performance.
It helped, too, that the Stones' songs had been absorbed by Scorsese into his very being. "Let me put it this way," he said in a revealing August 2007 interview with Craig McLean of the London Observer. "Between '63 and '70, those seven years, the music that they made I found myself gravitating to. I would listen to it a great deal. And ultimately, that fueled movies like 'Mean Streets' and later pictures of mine, 'Raging Bull' to a certain extent and certainly 'GoodFellas' and 'Casino' and other pictures over the years."