Monday, April 07, 2008
View from the Tank: Shine a Light (2008)
I can't remember what songs the Rolling Stones played during Martin Scorcese's concert documentary, Shine a Light, shot over two nights of concerts at the Beacon Theater in New York City. I don't remember too much about what the band was doing. No, mostly, I was mesmerized by the wan, joyless, off-rhythm clapping and half-hearted swaying of the the anorexic, hedge fund hotties in the front row. (Thanks to Kenneth Turan for that phrase; his review, which I read before I saw the movie, largely framed my view of the movie.)
Throughout the movie, as the withered, stringy, animated corpses of the Stones -- radioactive with life -- closed their eyes in bliss as they picked out notes on their guitars, strutted with their chests out, in stark contrast to the soulless corporate law firm associates and J.P. Morgan drones in the audience pretending to be excited between taking pictures of themselves on their cell phones and checking their blackberries, I kept thinking of what these boring, spiritless people represented.
What's changed, the Rolling Stones, or us? The archival footage of the Stones forty years ago -- the summer of '68 -- reminds us that at that time, young people would risk arrest and complicating their legal records by bursting past security and trying to tackle Mick or Keith. In 2008, multi-millionaire Central Asian uranium deal-maker Bill Clinton introduces the Stones, who wait to take pictures with Clinton's nephew and mother-in-law, and the starved young women in identical thousand-dollar outfits up against the stage respectfully wave and maintain a safe distance. The corporate waifs don't want to do anything that might endanger their employment at Davis Polk or their Lower East Side co-op applications. These plastic youth are citizens of the world we live in now: capitalism triumphant and indestructible. The Stones are phantoms from the past; relics that dance and strut for us, deliciously trapped in their endless gig -- yet forever more alive than us.
The movie is about the pure joy of music. The Stones are sold out beyond any discussion, of course. They are millionaires going around efficiently delivering a thousand paid-for iterations of their copyrighted songs, profiting off the sales of ring tones in the Phillipines. But a joyous note on a guitar, a brilliant high D on the tenor saxophone -- these are the clean, uncomplicated joys that vibrate in the frequencies of whatever stuff makes up our souls. That stuff that has wasted away in us. Like the hedge fund hotties, the Stones are skinny, too -- but their leanness is earned; they are marathon runners of bliss. They are lambently human. We are synthetic simulacra, unsure of how to find joy, and therefore ignorant of how to share it. We are unable to care about anything. So we buy Stones t-shirts for $60 and take pictures of ourselves to post on Facebook while 19 and 20 year-olds lose hands, legs, and eyes in an endless war in Iraq.
The movie is worth watching in a theater with a good sound system. The archival footage is mostly great. The final shot is quite amazing.