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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Shine a Light’ sounds, looks and feels real

By Sam Potter

Who better to direct a concert movie about The Rolling Stones than Martin Scorsese? Not only has the acclaimed director made some of the most celebrated music films in history (“The Last Waltz” with The Band and “No Direction Home” with Bob Dylan), he has employed tunes from the Stones’ lexicon since his earliest work. The product of this match made in heaven is “Shine A Light,” a visual and aural treat not only for fans of the Stones but fans of popular music in general.

The film opens with a hilarious and rollicking documentary segment in which we witness Scorsese’s pratfalls in communicating with the Stones and bringing the film’s look and style to life. As much of a presence on screen and off, Scorsese’s passion for the band’s music and the filmic medium causes every element of the film to bristle with energy. The documentary segment, shot in a smaller format with black bars around it, is filmed and edited in a kinetic, frenzied style to show the bustle of ideas that the collaborators are throwing around. The Stones, notorious for vague and obtuse communication, deliberate on coming up with a final set list, leaving Scorsese to pull out his grey hairs while deciding on how to shoot everything. By the time the band warms up, a set list scrawled in longhand arrives on Scorsese’s desk. Just as he’s about to read the opening tune, the format switches to widescreen, and Keith cranks out the grimy opening riff to “Jumping Jack Flash.” It’s gut-bustingly funny.

The inspired song choices help make the film enjoyable for both die-hard and casual Stones fans. The set list includes classic stompers such as “Brown Sugar,” “Satisfaction” and “Start Me Up,” but it’s the lesser-known tunes that give the film a broad, panoramic view of the vast amount of genres from which the Stones derives its sound. The band drives this point home even further by selecting perfect guest artists to perk up the tunes that their audience may not know as well. The folksy rock tune “Loving Cup” features Jack White playing slide and trading verses with Mick. Blues legend Buddy Guy is brought out for the sleazy blues tune “Champagne and Reefer,” and Christina Aguilera helps Mick turn up the soul on the little-known classic “Live With Me” from Let It Bleed. Guitarist Ron Wood, always the jack-of-all-trades, pulls out a pedal steel for the sleepy country ballad “Far Away Eyes,” and the band puts their bawdy, raucous English stamp on The Temptations classic, “Just My Imagination.”

Thankfully, Scorsese’s approach to presenting the concert is equally as inspired as the music itself. With somewhere around 12 camera setups, he puts us in all the right spots and creates an experience so immersing that you can’t help but feel like you’re at the concert. Whereas many concert films focus primarily on the frontman or distant audience shots, Scorsese’s coverage makes sure to make frequent stops at the engine that fuels Mick and Keith’s fire. Drummer Charlie Watts, often the most quiet and reclusive Stones member, speaks quite a bit during the intermittent interview segments. In one break, Mick gives Watts the microphone and asks him to say, “Hello” (“He speaks!” Mick jokes). The coverage is even-handed, and the editing style is confident enough in its subject to linger on shots without need of extensive cutting to create the illusion of spectacle.

The most inspired element of the entire film, however, is the sound design. As the band churns away, the sound of whomever happens to be on screen is boosted to let us hear exactly how he is contributing. For example, we see Mick singing away with an even mix only to cut to Keith cranking out a snaky blues lick, his guitar level rising to reveal the sound in all its snarling swagger. This technique creates an intensely engaging experience, as if we can hear exactly what each individual band member hears while on stage. And the crowd sounds are mixed so elaborately that after every song, I swore the audience around me was applauding. I looked around every two or so songs to see if they were — the effect was that believable. Various shouts and cheers emanate from various spots in the room. It sounded like being at a real concert.

With “Shine a Light,” Scorsese and the Stones craft an entertaining, immersing concert experience that is a feast for both the eyes and ears. It’s one of those rare cinematic treats that can truly be called an “experience.”

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