The biggest stars of this year’s Berlin Film Festival were neither actors nor directors. Musicians were the main attraction during a week that featured documentaries about Patti Smith, Gorillaz, Neil Young, Baghdad’s heavy-metal scene, and German beatbox rappers. Madonna showed up to present her directorial debut, Filth and Wisdom. Fisticuffs marred the press screening; grown film critics cried after failing to gain entrance to the packed theater.
The press conference for Martin Scorsese’s Shine a Light was, by comparison, a love fest. The diminutive director appeared with the band whose music he has most consistently featured in his work.
“Shine a Light is the only Martin Scorsese movie that doesn’t have ‘Gimme Shelter’ in it,” Mick Jagger quipped to the overflow crowd of journalists.
But why does the Rolling Stones’ music fit so well in Scorsese films?
“The music was certainly part of my life throughout the ’60s,” revealed the director. “But I had never seen the Rolling Stones perform until the early ’70s. So for me the sound of the music — the chords, the vocals, the entire feel — inspired me greatly. It became a basis for most of the work I’ve done in my movies, from Mean Streets and Raging Bull through Casino to The Departed. It’s something that is timeless, very strong, and powerful. It created images in my mind.”
A Rolling Stones movie is hardly a new idea. The band had already attracted such prominent filmmakers as Jean-Luc Godard, Nicolas Roeg, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, and Albert and David Maysles. What makes an established figure like Scorsese want to portray the most-documented group in music history?
The director answered that question with a correction. “This is not a documentary film. It creates or captures a performance. But I always did [want to make a Stones film]. Back when I heard the songs, I said I want to get that on film one day. It took 40 years. It’s the obscure object of desire, you want to possess it. Making the film . . . rejuvenates me, it keeps the energy going for me creatively.”
A French reporter wondered whether a concert film doesn’t reveal the limits of cinema. No matter how many camera angles are on offer, isn’t the live performance always better?
“Ultimately, it’s about not only the extraordinary work of the band together but how it’s covered on film: how the cuts are made and how the camera moves. What keeps us energized in editing is to create the whole film like a piece of choreography. It becomes something else. It’s obviously not the live performance itself. But it gives you the impression. If it has a poetry in motion in the way the cameras move, how it’s edited, and how they [the Stones] move in the frame, then maybe we can give you something that’s as close as possible to a live performance on stage.”
In spite of turning 65 and finally winning an Oscar, Scorsese has no plans to retire. The director shed light on several new projects: the Dennis Lehane–penned feature Shutter Island, a Teddy Roosevelt bio-pic, documentaries about George Harrison and Bob Marley.
One wonders how Scorsese will portray Harrison and Marley. Shine a Light shows the Rolling Stones in a way that no other film about the group has. Rather than rehashing their rise to stardom or their sordid private lives, it probes their corporeal essence, their physiognomic dynamics. As Scorsese explained to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung earlier that day, “Their faces are the story. The relationships they have on stage. How they look at each other.”