Moriarty’s One Thing I Love Today! SHINE A LIGHT In IMAX!
Published at: April 7, 2008, 10:20 p.m. CST by Moriarty
Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here.
I remember when MATRIX REVOLUTIONS came out, I was busy working on a script, and I didn’t have time to see the movie. It wasn’t until about a week and a half into the run that I finally snuck away to see an afternoon screening at the Universal Citywalk IMAX. And my overwhelming impression of the film, removed from anything involving the narrative, was “Goddamn, Lawrence Fishburne should never be in an IMAX movie again.”
That’s because... not to be cruel... but IMAX is unforgiving. Even if you’re dealing with a good 35MM blow-up to the IMAX frame, it’s still pretty amazing how you’re drawn into the details. If I’m given the choice between a regular screening or an IMAX screening, there’s never any question. And in different films, it’s different things that really make the experience great. Sometimes it’s the clarity of the oversized image. Sometimes it’s the sound mix, since you’re sitting on about 474,007 speakers, I think. Or at least, that’s what it feels like.
SHINE A LIGHT would be a damn fine film in any format, and I look forward to owning it at some point, but in IMAX, it’s particularly effective. The beginning of the film is a documentary, rapid-fire impressions of the hectic build-up to the performance of the concert. This was originally going to be a film documenting a gigantic concert the Stones threw in Rio, with the idea being that they would try to film the entire amazing circus of performing live for a million and a half people. But after Scorsese watched their live show a few times, he realized that what he really wanted to do was stage their show in an intimate setting, and then film that. The Beacon Theater in New York was chosen, and it’s a great choice on his part. It allows him a lot more control.
Of course, “control” is Mick Jagger’s middle name, and that’s what the entire opening sequence is about. Scorsese wants a set list so he can plan the shoot, and Jagger won’t give him one because it’s not done yet. Scorsese milks every bit of tension and humor out of that set-up, all the way up to that last moment as the Stones are taking the stage and someone runs in and slams the set list down in front of Scorsese just as the opening chords of... well, I won’t ruin it for you, but just as one of their songs kicks in. That’s when the movie blows out to fill the full IMAX frame, and the rest of the movie is a close-up look at who the Rolling Stones are right now and how they work together after all these years.
It’s unfair to dismiss this as a film entirely just because you don’t like the Rolling Stones or you think they’re past their sell-by date or whatever the gripe is. I’m not a huge fan of anything they’ve recorded in the last 25 years, but I respect the fact that they still draw a huge audience when they tour, and that they’ve weathered things that would destroy most bands. The performance in the film is at its best when they’re playing songs you don’t know as well, things that aren’t their giant iconic hits. They almost throw the hits away when they play them, and a few of them sound like there are two different bands playing at once because of the near-indifference they exhibit towards the songs. But on lesser-known tracks, they really relax into what they’re doing, and a few of these songs really soar as a result. One of the strangest moments in the whole thing comes when they perform “As Tears Go By,” a song that was a hit for Marianne Faithful in 1964, even though the Stones wrote it. In his intro, Mick says they originally thought it was too cute for them, but that they’ve learned to like the song over the years. Mick’s performance borders on the surreal as he seems to morph into Lily Tomlin-as-Ernestine, doing some freaky thing with his mouth as he sings. This tour marked the first time the Stones ever performed the song live, and it’s memorable, certainly.
For me, though, what I find most intriguing is the actual shooting of the film. I remember going to see The Police live back in the ‘80s at the Omni in Atlanta, where they were recording the concert for Showtime. Most of my memories of that show involve the back of a cameraman and a giant camera tower, thanks to dumb luck and shitty seats.
Here, Jagger’s concern that the people in the Beacon were going to get screwed because of all the cameras made Scorsese work extra-hard to keep that from happening. He signed cinematographer Robert Richardson to co-ordinate the shoot, and that name would be impressive enough on its own. But Richardson put together a dream team of some of the biggest cinematographers in the business and had all of them come in to be the primary on-stage camera operators, and the results are fantastic. This is a textbook example of how you shoot a live performance, and little wonder when you arm Mitchell Amundsen (TRANSFORMERS, WANTED), Stuart Dryburgh (LONE STAR, THE PIANO), David Dunlap (SHAUN OF THE DEAD), Robert Elswit (THERE WILL BE BLOOD, SYRIANA, BOOGIE NIGHTS), Ellen Kuras (ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, HE GOT GAME), Andrew Lesnie (THE LORD OF THE RINGS, BABE), Emmanuel Lubezki (CHILDREN OF MEN, THE NEW WORLD, ALI, A LITTLE PRINCESS), Anastas Nichos (MAN ON THE MOON), Declan Quinn (IN AMERICA, LEAVING LAS VEGAS), and John Freakin’ Toll (THE THIN RED LINE, BRAVEHEART, ALMOST FAMOUS) with cameras and tell them to capture the event together. If that theater had, god forbid, burned to the ground, international cinema would have taken an immeasurable hit. This is about as great a collection of cameramen as any film has even been able to assemble, and I think the payoff isn’t about it being pretty... it’s about the fact that they captured details that no one else would have shot. This isn’t just the band and the audience and the songs and nothing else. The goal here seems to be to capture that essential connection that happens between musicians onstage, especially guys that have been playing together longer than I’ve been alive.
Yes, IMAX can be unforgiving, but in the case of Jagger and Richards, I find the mileage on them to be fascinating, especially when it’s intercut with footage of them dating all the way back to the start of their careers. The Stones, like many English bands of that era, were in love with the authentic blues of America, and they wanted to be bluesmen themselves. That’s ridiculous when you hear it coming out of a 20-year-old, but then when you see Richards now, he’s become the thing he used to pretend to be. This guy’s lived a hell of a life, and it’s taken an profound physical toll on him, and I get the feeling he wouldn’t want it any other way. Now when he plays, there’s a lifetime of experience in how he does it, and the result is finally that authentic thing he was striving for in his youth.
And Jagger? Well, all I can say is that he’s a performance artist. Love him or hate him, there’s no one else even remotely like him. He prances and struts and skips like a fucking Martian who is trying to do an Earth dance only ever having read about it in a book. He’s so weird that he’s cool by default, and I think it’s long since stopped being an act. It looks to me like this is simply Mick... like he doesn’t even consciously think about it anymore. He just clicks into this performance mode and suddenly he’s from outer space. It’s fun to watch because of how bizarre it is, and again... you don’t need to like a single song of theirs to still be captivated by the energy on display.
The guest appearances here are all fairly useless except for Jack White, whose joy while playing “Loving Cup” is palpable, and when the Clintons show up, it knocked me out of the movie for a few minutes. Even so, I’ll be going to see this one again while it’s playing IMAX and taking some people with me to share it with them. I keep trying to turn people on to this format that I love so much, and this is an absorbing showcase for what IMAX does best. Big sound, big picture, big fun.
I’ll have more about SHINE A LIGHT tomorrow when I run an interview I just did with Robert Elswit for the DVD release of THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Until then...