No Context for Old Men: Things I Learned Watching Shine a Light
Things I Learned from Watching Shine a Light
Blame it on the debates last night, the spectacle one more time of a supposed elder talking sternly down to anyone in earshot who happens to be younger, the upshot as always I was there, as if being present then were somehow proxy for being fit to be present anywhere, in any position, ten or twenty or forty years later. Thus Shine a Light’s Keith Richards can blithely intone, as if bestowing upon his audience some timeworn piece of wisdom, “It’s good to see you all. It’s good to see anybody,” with an absolute surety as to the equal anonymity of anyone not named Mick, Charlie, or Ronnie, and his audience will crack up—because, of all things, they basically agree.
No surprise the Rolling Stones, circa 2008, turn out to be the kind of band—as we find out, a few thousand feet up in first class—that splits the list of potential songs for the night’s set into the categories of “Well Known” and “Medium Known.” Boiling self-regard scalds tepid modesty, and so we get Bill Clinton introducing the band by noting his birthday present is “opening” for the Rolling Stones. Aced out entirely in proceedings is the film’s ostensible maker, Marty Scorcese, who has at last apparently found four men whose schtick is more entrenched than his own. He can’t get a set list, which is hilarious, because who, at this point, doesn’t know exactly what the band is going to play?
All credit to Buddy Guy, who comes onstage in front of the two Clintons in the audience to vow he’ll get high tomorrow, just as sure as his name, and none to Keith Richards, who apparently mistakes him for a guy who’s short on guitars, and so gives him one at the end with the preposterous benediction: “It’s yours.” “I don’t think onstage,” says Keith, offstage, “I feel.”
Scorcese, meanwhile, realizes what he’s up against too late, and settles for his own version of two hours of greatest hits: arrhythmic cutting, cameras that swoop, fun at the mixer when the camera gets close in on a Keith (but somehow, never Ronnie) solo, a Goodfellas nod at the end, when he walks the camera backstage and then outside, past, yup, a couple more Marty Scorceses and, for a finale, transforming a CGI moon over Manhattan into a Rolling Stones tongue. “I did a thousand things over there,” he says to no one in particular, “And nothing that I needed to do.”