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Movies | Concert film shows aging Stones pumping life into songs

Issue: "Save our cities," April 19, 2008

From Faust to Dorian Gray, the pursuit of eternal youth has inspired morbid fascination. Something similar is at work in the Rolling Stones concert film, Shine a Light (rated PG-13 for brief strong language, drug references, and smoking). How is it that the "core four," whose average age was 63 when this 2006 New York City footage was shot, can still pump life into these songs?

True, they pace themselves with low-energy interludes ("As Tears Go By," "Faraway Eyes"), and they're assisted by sidemen. But the sound and energy emanate from the Stones, leaving open the question of whether they may indeed have made a pact with the entity on whose behalf Mick Jagger sings in "Sympathy for the Devil."

Compounding the effect is their appearance. Contrasted with his well-preserved physique, Jagger's face has become so creased as to make its lines as arresting as his lips. And the cadaverousness of Keith Richards and Ron Wood renders their swagger positively creepy.

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Perhaps their secret is doing what they love. Richards' perpetual smile bespeaks the obvious pleasure he takes in singing and riffing his way through classics and obscurities alike. And surely Richards and Wood derived an invigorating thrill from defying Mayor Bloomberg's public-smoking ban.

As directed by Martin Scorsese, the film puts the viewer in the proverbial best seat in the house, its multiple angles, attention to detail, and intermittently inserted vintage interviews enhancing the value of the cinematic ticket price vis-à-vis the concert one.

A weakness is the cameos. Jack White, Christina Aguilera, and Buddy Guy acquit themselves well, but their comparative slickness creates dissonance. And the pre-concert face time of Bill Clinton, celebrating his 60th birthday, feels gratuitous given the presidential campaign of Hillary (who also appears). At least the documented absence of sniper fire should discourage her from "misspeaking" about the event.


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