With legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese directing a concert documentary about The Rolling Stones, expectations are high. This is the guy who made "The Last Waltz," one of the defining concert films of all time. How could he top it? The truth is, he can't -- but he has made a vibrant, by-the-numbers ode to the current Stones, a string-bean gang of old farts who play with more fire today than they did in their drug-saturated heyday, even if they haven't released a worthy album in more than 25 years.
The film was shot in 2006 during a Bill Clinton birthday bash at the intimate Beacon Theatre in New York, and Scorsese uses a platoon of big-name cinematographers to capture the stadium-sized energy. Frenetic concert footage, featuring seamlessly edited close-ups and strobelike lighting, is interspersed with vintage television interviews used mostly for comedic relief.
Walk-on guest performances during the show include a thrilled Jack White singing alongside Mick Jagger on "Loving Cup"; cool bluesman Buddy Guy dominating one of the concert highlights, Muddy Waters' "Champagne and Reefer"; and finally pop singer Christina Aguilera playing the sexpot Tina Turner role on "Live With Me," a bland modern foil to Jagger's lecherous air-humping bonanza. Since backstage banter with The Stones has been amply covered before, Scorsese wisely focuses on the music. And what he most consistently illuminates over two hours is the snarling rhythm guitar interplay between Keith Richards and Ron Woods ("We're both pretty lousy, but together we're better than 10 others," Richards notes. More like 99 percent of all others.)
Watching this film on the huge, concave IMAX screen offers a uniquely immersive experience with ear-piercing volume from the 12,000-watt sound system. It sounds sharper than if you were actually at the show. Individual audience claps crackle out of the walls and towering visuals expose every sagging skin fold and arcing spit. But even with all the glittering eye candy, the most penetrating cinematic visual comes when Buddy Guy, one of many old-school bluesmen the Stones ripped off and brilliantly repackaged, stares dead-eyed into the camera the kind of transcendent live moment Scorsese knows well enough to leave alone.
"Shine a Light" (PG-13) plays at the Ethyl IMAX Dome at the Science Museum of Virginia for the next four to six weeks. Tickets are $10. Call 864-1400 or visit www.smv.org for schedule information.