SHINE A LIGHT

//The Last Waltz//, Martin Scorcese’s rockumentary about//The Band's// final concert has been derided and lauded in equal measure.  The supposed inspiration for //This is Spinal Tap//, the film was nevertheless stamped with some Scorcese directorial flourishes (Robbie Robertson and Scorcese argued about which colour schemes were Catholic) and has been reappraised as one of the most iconic rock films of all time.

 

//No Direction Home//, Scorcese's documentary on Bob Dylan, provided insight into one of the most elusive of popular cultural icons, the release coinciding with his artistic resurgence and a moment when his mercurial public image, and almost obsessive evasion of cultural bandwagons, were a powerful counterpoint to shallow celebrity and zero watt talent.

 

What then, is the point of //Shine a Light//? Does it mark a moment of music history? No. The concert itself, though actually filmed across two live events, was to mark Bill Clinton's 60thbirthday. Clinton himself introduces the band. If that is a defining moment in rock n'roll history, it is its funeral.

 

Does it capture a band at their peak?  Obviously not. The music itself is good. Not great, but good. The set list and stage design are similar to that of the Stones'recent //Bigger Bang// tour. As that played to almost everyone on the face of the planet with any interest in the band, it again begs the question: 'Why?'

 

Is it a documentary about the history of the band? No.  The film is almost entirely concert footage with occasional archive interviews and no narration. The barest of history is skipped through with little purpose. If you didn’t know that Mick Jagger was once arrested for possessing weed, then you probably wouldn’t be seeing the film anyway.

 

Is it a directorial tour de force? No.  Scorcese, who seems to have morphed into //Millhouse//, arrives on screen to bookend the films beginning and end: First to drive home the difficulties that faced him in collaborating with 'crrazy'Rock n'Rollers and again to remind us that he was somewhere behind the camera. Indeed, so light is his touch that, if it were not for Scorcese appearing on screen, it would be easy to wonder whether he was there at all. 

 

That doesn’t mean he did a bad job, one of the faults with //The Last Waltz// is that it is 'too directed', it sees the show as theatre rather than concert. The sweat and blood of live music doesn’t transfer well to a well-lit soundstage, an audience of comfortably seated popcorn crunchers, and a very solid fourth wall.  The result can be sterile and dull.

 

Scorcese gets the camera down amongst the (suspiciously beautiful) crowd to adopt the appropriately reverential angle on his subjects.  At the right moments he gets close up to the band and at one brilliant point Mick Jagger does just about all of his moves in less than a minute. 

 

But otherwise, the film could have been directed by anyone with the ability to point a camera, or rather the ability to tell someone else where to point it. The rest was up to the band, who did what they do.

 

If //Shine a Light// does have a theme, it is about a great band who decided to just keep on going. The occasional interviews repeatedly return to the topic of age and how long the band will last. Advancing age is evidenced by crackling voices, crinkling faces, and their self deprecatory humour. All of this makes their energy and commitment something heroic and beautiful, well worthy of cinema. But that story, those images, are like the band themself: well worn. The very thing the film fails to do is shine any light.

©2017 BY JAMES BRAMBLE