Not that the Stones look like spring chickens anymore. Sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll do take their toll, and so does time; but if they all look more than a bit weathered, they also look pretty fit for a bunch of guys who, if the legends about them are true, probably shouldn't still be alive. Mick Jagger still dances like a spring lamb trying out its new legs; Keith Richards and Ron Wood look stringy, gristly and relaxed; Charlie Watts - well, he looks a little winded; but he's unflappably calm.
Two of the dominant thematic threads of Scorsese's film work come together in Shine a Light. His narrative films frequently focus on men, often behaving badly, while his docs tend to be epic love poems to his twin passions for music and movies. Shine a Light is his fourth rockumentary (after The Last Waltz, The Band: Feel Like Going Home and No Direction Home).
Shine a Light is jittery and jumpy, taking its cue from Jagger, who prances all over the stage, and from Richards' rhythmic, catchy, instantly recognizable chords. With cameras that swoop and soar and hop from one musician to another, Shine a Light is energetic and hyperactive, like Scorsese and Jagger, but also calm and focused and in the zone at its center, like Richards, Wood and Watts. If there's a secret to their endurance - the filmmaker's and the rock stars' - it's in their love of their work, which is in evidence all over Shine a Light.
The concert, filmed at New York's Beacon Theatre in 2006, was a benefit for the Clinton Foundation. The ex-POTUS chuckles that "people in their 60s" were begging him for tickets - forgetting, it seems, that he's in that crowd himself. Multigenerational guest performers turn up: Jack White looks like an utterly star-struck stripling crooning "Loving Cup" with Mick; Christina Aguilera, for all her gyrating and vocal theatrics, is no match for Mick's booty-shaking (and her singing style is a mismatch). But it's septuagenarian bluesman Buddy Guy who burns down the house with "Champagne and Reefer"; now it's the Stones' turn to look like the luckiest kids in New York. In the end, the band had more stamina than I did in a concert full of Greatest Hits and favorite songs that went on just a few licks too long.
Shine a Light starts as a funny, crisis-packed, mini-making-of movie, with Scorsese and the Stones discussing and negotiating. Mick is worried that the swooping cameras will annoy the audience; Scorsese asks - and asks and asks - for a set list, which he finally gets minutes before the show starts. The director is informed that the lights on stage will burn Mick Jagger...literally. Watts dryly observes, "I love movies. Lookin' at 'em."
From the carefully chosen archival interviews interspersed throughout the film, it's clear that Watts was always the Harpo Marx of the bunch. The Stones have been around long enough that it's easy, now, to forget how young they once were; and the archival footage provides perspective and a dash of history, as the rock tyros with time on their side (who knew then how true that was?) morph into well-seasoned, timeworn, hard-travelin' rock legends.
Scorsese's in his 60s too, and Shine a Light is, among other things, a meditation on age and aging, and doing it - and it sounds a little weird to say it about old rock geezers - gracefully. Sure, Watts is the only Stone with white hair; but none of them look botoxed, or show the telltale signs of desperate cosmetic surgical alteration. They look like real people, and that is worth noting in a time when our pop culture icons show us mostly a funhouse-mirror reflection of stretched and impassive faces, tucked tummies, snow-white teeth and bowling ball implants. Ya gotta love the British for knowing how to let themselves go. If this is what the 60s look like, I hope I don't die before I get old.