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March 2008



By Wilson Morales

April 2, 2008

Having done 'The Departed', which finally netted him that gold statue named Oscar, Martin Scorsese walked away from the mob world to do something special. He could have another mob film or any film in general, but instead, he decided to film in concert the one group that fans would love to see, The Rolling Stones. 'Shine A Light' was filmed in 2006 at the Beacon Theatre in New York City with special guests that include Jack White, Christina Aguilera and Buddy Guy, these could go on forever and no would realize that they have been perfoming for over 40 years.

At a recent press conference at The New York Palace Hotel, Scorsese and the Stones (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ronnie Wood) talked about the making of this extraordinary documentary.

Mr. Scorsese, could you explain why it was important for you to make this film in a small venue and in your native Manhattan? And for the Stones, Mick at one point says “You’ve been a great audience.” You’ve no doubt said that before and will say it again, but was the Beacon audience special that night?

Scorsese: The importance of making the film on a smaller venue, for me… we discussed doing it at a bigger arena and I looked into that, and actually while I was doing it I was trying to prepare for that. I began to realize I’d rather… I think I’m better suited to try to capture the group on stage, on a small stage, more for the intimacy than for the group and the way they play together. The way you see the band work together and work each song, I found that to be interesting and more than interesting, it’s just a compulsion of mine. I love to be able to see that and be able to cut from one image to the other, movement, that sort of thing, but (it’s) really about the intimacy of the group and how they work together.

Jagger: I can’t remember what you said now (laughter), but the audience was a good audience, because I think they really got into the spirit of the movie as well as enjoying being an audience for the band. They were a great audience for the band, but also they were a great audience for the movie.

Richards: They were all cameramen. (laughter)

Scorsese: They enjoyed it, the cameramen liked it.

Keith, did you see anything special about that night?

Richards: The Beacon Theater is special for some reason, anyway. It wraps around…especially if you’re going to play there for more than one night and you start to get… the room sort of wraps its arms around you, and every night, it’s warmer. It’s a great feeling room, and also, this band didn’t start off in stadiums (chuckles).

Charlie, do you want to say something about it being a special night.

Watts: No. (laughter)

Wood: I knew he’d say that!

This movie will be on IMAX screens in addition to standard screens. How different an experience will that be for fans?

Jagger: It will be very (much) larger (laughter)…

Wood: The slight imperfections might be revealed. (laughter)

Jagger: The funny thing really is that Marty, after looking at all the options, decided that he wanted to make this small, intimate movie and I said, “Well, the laugh is Marty that in the end it’s going to be blown up to this huge IMAX thing, so the intimate moment is shown in IMAX.” But it looks good in IMAX. We’ve got both formats, so we’re happy with that.

Why did you choose Marty as the director?

Jagger: He’s the best one around. (laughs)

What would he do that other directors wouldn’t?

Jagger: I can’t answer that but… I’m embarrassed now. He’s not part of the furniture (laughs)… he’s a fantastic director and (turning to Scorsese) you assembled a wonderful crew. I think he would agree with that. And he got fantastic DPs, camera, lighting, everyone working on it, and then (was) very painstaking on the editing to produce the movie that you see. It’s not all in the shooting. It’s obviously in the editing, too.

Richards: Also we didn’t choose Marty, Marty chose us.

Scorsese: It was mutual.

Marty, with the world of the Mafia featured in so many of your films, can you make any comparisons to working with the Stones?

Scorsese: Uh, well, no, that’s an interesting question. I don’t think I can make any direct associations to it, but the music is something that deals with… at times, it reminds me of when I went to see Three Penny Opera back in 1959-1960 and how the music affected me and what that was saying and what that play said, and the lyrics were so important to me, that particular play. I found I grew up in an area that was in a sense like the Three Penny Opera, and I think at times the Rolling Stones’ music had a similar effect on me. It dealt with aspects of the life that I was growing up around, that I was associated with or saw or was experiencing and trying to make sense of, and so it was tougher, had an edge, beautiful and honest and brutal at times and powerful, and it’s always stayed with me and become a well of inspiration, like to this day. As Mick said in Berlin, he said (to Mick)… Can I take the line from you? He said, “I want you to know that Shine a Light is the only film (of mine) that Gimme Shelter is not played in. (laughter) And when I use Gimme Shelter in a film, which I think is just as apropos of the world we’re living in today, Gimme Shelter. When I use it in a film, I don’t remember that I used it before. I say, “Well, let’s do that” and they say “Well, Marty you did it before” and I go, “Well, it’s alright.” I keep forgetting, you know, but it’s something that the music has been very important to me over these years.

Keith and Mick, which are your favorite films by Martin Scorsese?

Jagger: Which one do you like, Keith?

Richards; Oh, me?

Jagger: Marty’s favorite

Richards: Marty’s favorite?

Jagger: Kundun’s one of my favorites.

(Scorsese cracks up; Jaggers looks at him)

Jagger: That’s not a joke. (laughter) Did you do that one?

Scorsese: I did do it, yes. (laughter)

Jagger: I love all of them. It’s hard to choose your favorite. I love nearly all of Marty’s movies and I can’t wait for the next one.

Going back to the set list, a lot of people have called this movie “a meditation on aging.” What made you choose a lot of bluesy numbers and a lot of slower songs, and then, later, amp it up at the end?

Jagger: I don’t know now. It was 18 months ago. I mean…

Richards: Mick always comes up with the set list because he’s got to sing them. Unless I say suddenly, “Mick, you’ve got ten songs in the same key,” I don’t interfere. We make it up because the man’s got to sing them.

Jagger: Yeah, I think you pick the one you think is best for the night really. I wasn’t thinking, “God, this is a….”

Richards: There might be a sore throat (and that would end any debate).

How much fun are you guys still having, and were there moments of that you wanted the film to capture?

Jagger: It took us two days to shoot the picture, but we’ve spent four days doing the premieres and promotions. It’s taken us twice as long doing that. Shooting this movie was quite nerve-wracking in some ways for us, and in other ways it was fantastically enjoyable. I’m sure that Marty has got a lot of things going on, and he’s got to cover it when it happens. It was quite a challenge. Talking about having fun, it was great fun, but it was great challenge for everyone sitting at this platform both on the night and after it. Career-wise, you always see things as great fun, but they’re also challenges to do these things that are slightly different from what you do normally.

And Marty, your thoughts on what you wanted to capture from the Stones?

Scorsese: For me, it was literally the moments when you can see the band working together. All the songs, it’s like a narrative, a story, and the whole sound of the band is like a character, one character in each song. With the grace of these wonderful cinematographers, headed by Bob Richardson, and people like Bob Elswit and Ellen Kuras and (Gerard) Sava and John Toll and (Andrew) Lesnie, who did Lord of the Rings, Andrew Rowlands… they were able to, like poets at times, know exactly when to move that camera to pick up a member of the band. We shot this in 35mm, not video, so we had 10-minute loads, and cameras were going down all the time, running out of film, so another camera would pick up where someone left off. That’s why there were so many, to be able to pick up the slack. But the key was to find the moments between the members of the band and how they work together. It’s like a machine, its own entity during each song.

Who chose the documentary clips? And will you still perform when you’re 70?

Richards: That’s only five years away.

Scorsese: Who chose the clips? Dave Tedeschi’s the editor of the film and we worked together almost nine-10 months. The music came together rather quickly in the cutting. That was very enjoyable. The hardest part was putting together the clips. I think Dave had over 400 hours of archival footage, and then he chose about 40 hours for me to see. And then we worked from that 40 hours and it was a matter of balancing, saying something but not saying too much and then saying nothing with it. That was the key, and balancing it so it wouldn’t unbalance the music in the piece. To do a film of all archival footage I think would be a four- or five-hour documentary.

Jagger: There were some moments when I thought the archival footage was going too long and I felt we were going off into another movie and not at a concert. Because it was really kind of riveting sometimes, those old movies, but then if it goes on too long you want to come back to the concert stage. Sometimes David left them a little bit on the long side. So, in the end, we ended up with what we had, which was good.

Any plans to do an acoustic album like Beggar’s Banquet in the future?

Jagger: It wasn’t really an acoustic album. It did have acoustic guitar. We don’t, actually, have plans. We do have some acoustic songs in the featurette on the DVD.

Richards: When you can’t afford electricity, baby, you go acoustic.

Can you talk about your relationship with Buddy Guy?

Jagger: We’ve done quite a few shows with Buddy Guy in the past. I think we’ve known him off and on for quite a long time. He’s one of those continually wonderful blues performers.

Richards: We met him through Muddy Waters; he goes back a long way.

Jagger: I think the thing that Martin captured, the duet thing that we did with him, was really one of the high points of the movie for me.

Richards: I didn’t give him my guitar for nothing, man.

Jackson: And I think all the guests in slightly different ways add to the movie. I like all the duets very much; they really all work. And they don’t always work, those duets. I think everyone likes the duets, and they really come off, so thanks.

I noticed Al Maysles in a few of the shots. How were you influenced by earlier Stones films?

Scorsese: Al sort of referenced the line of continuity with a number of wonderful films he made with the Rolling Stones. We went back to Gimme Shelter and Hal Ashby’s Let’s Spend the Night Together and the Godard (film, One Plus One, also known as Sympathy for the Devil).

Richards: Don’t forget Cocksucker Blues.

Scorsese: And Cocksucker Blues. But in the Godard film you actually see the song Sympathy for the Devil come together in the recording studio, which is fascinating. This is a direct reference to the past films, yeah.

There’s that phone call early on between Mick and Marty, when you’re discussing plans for shooting the Beacon show. How real is that tension between you guys?

Jagger: It’s totally real.

Scorsese: I trimmed it a bit. The actual phone call was 45 minutes, so I cheated a bit. The idea is to capture the spontaneity of the group, and the word “capture”’ means you have to control it, but you can’t control spontaneity. And yet the cameras have to be in the right position. And then I wanted to go a little further and have them be all moving cameras, but that means they could collide with the performance. So you have to be very careful and all this sort of thing. And also the band is on tour, so we ended up talking to each other in like little talking boxes. I shot that at, I think, 11 o’clock at night on video, and I said to my assistant, who was in the hotel next door that had white phones, I said, “Gimme a white phone,” because I happen to like white phones. I said to David, “Just get the voice in a little speaker, like a box, like the voice of Zeus coming up into the air.” But the humor of that was that we could never be in the same city together for a long period of time. We just couldn’t do it, and so we had to work that way. I did trim down the phone call, that’s true, although I couldn’t stop talking about camera moves and sweeps. That’s very real. And the set list itself, it had to really be something that they all worked out almost, I think, to the last minute. You have to know the room, you’ve got to feel the temperature of the audience, you’ve got to feel what’s happening. It could be softer; it could be anything. I was concerned that we get as much as we could on film because the film’s running out of magazines at 10 minutes a clip. I wanted to get the first three songs completely, with all 12, 15 cameras, whatever it was. But inevitably some of them are going to go out, which happened, I think, with She Was Hot. But luckily we had the backup cameras. I actually found out the set list a little earlier than that. Someone did purloin it. I’m not going to use the word "stolen" or say who it was, but we found it.

For the Stones, how do you feel about the bits with Mr. Scorsese at the beginning and end of the film?

Jagger: We had a lot of trouble working out the ending of the film with Marty because he had to go to a lot of different acting coaches.

Scorsese: It was sad, yeah. I do it in a lot of my pictures. It’s like with Edward Kennedy, the slow burn. He used to go like this (he presses his hands hard against his forehead). That’s what it’s like to make films. Another thing is to get into that and literally send up the hapless director, so to speak. Very often you do feel like a hapless person sitting there. It started snowing one night when we were shooting, (and) it wasn’t supposed to snow, things like that. But that’s the nature of what it is. There’s so many concert films now where you see the actual setting up of the concert. Let’s have fun with it, let’s get to the actual tension, and the good humor of that tension, really.

There’s an arc to the film. How did that happen?

Scorsese: We hoped for that arc. We needed them to perform the way they are; we can’t put cameras in their way, and yet I wanted to get that arc. I knew that getting certain cameramen working together, they could find the angles and find the looks and know when to pan to Ronnie on guitar, know when to pan to Keith, know when to stay on Mick and Charlie, and that sort of thing. I was hoping that the cameras in those positions would get those moments, and then it was constructed in the editing.

Shine A Light Opens April 4th



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