MARTIN SCORSESE DIRECTS SHINE A LIGHT
Martin Scorsese loves all kinds of music. “Opera, classical, country, blues, rock, it’s all a big part of my life,” he says. But there are some musicians that are closer to his heart – the ones who have been with him since he first discovered them back in the sixties. “Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Stones – always the Stones. They’re always there for me.”
Although he didn’t actually get to see The Stones live until the early 1970s, Scorsese vividly remembers the huge impact that songs like Gimmie Shelter had when he first heard them.
“The vocals and the instrumentation created a special energy – a sound – unlike anything else. In effect, the sound was like a character – a persona in the dramatic narrative of the story – like the voice of a poet reciting an epic or a shaman’s incantation. A distinct personality and voice which speaks only to you…to me. And the message is specific and immediate and a product and comment on the world you live in, and that I live in…sometimes funny, sometimes sarcastic, tender but brutal and honest – an acceptance of a darker side of human nature, often poetically. Their persona – and really, it was their persona, a joint creation - became part of my subconscious.”
When he made Mean Streets – the first of several Scorsese features rightly regarded as classics – back in 1973 he used two Stones songs on the soundtrack, Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Tell Me.
“The Stones’ music has remained a wellspring of inspiration. When I finally got to make the film I wanted to make, I said, ‘I’m going to make the film I want and I’m going to make it the way I want and I’m not going to make any compromises.’ And this became became Mean Streets. The Stones’ music was all over it. I wanted more but we couldn’t afford it.”
Scorsese’s love of music has been central to his career as a filmmaker. He was an editor on Woodstock, the seminal documentary which captured the last, great festival of the 60s. He directed The Last Waltz, a vivid document of The Band’s last concert and perhaps the greatest of all live rock ‘n roll movies. More recently, he directed the highly acclaimed Dylan documentary No Direction Home: Bob Dylan. Future projects include films on George Harrison and Bob Marley.
His new Shine A Light is a beautifully shot and dynamically edited record of the Stones in concert at New York’s legendary Beacon Theatre.
Filmed over two nights at the Beacon during The Stones’ 2006 Bigger Bang tour, Shine A Light is a concert documentary interspersed with archive footage of the band and it offers a fascinating insight into the preparations building up to this very special Stones gig.
“If we’d made a documentary on the Stones and their history, then that would have been a very different movie, about not just them but also their times…their history,” says Scorsese. “This was always first and foremost a concert film. I wanted it to be about the music, the performance.”
He also wanted to film them close up and in an intimate setting. “I’ve been to see them many times over the last few years and the last time I saw them in a small venue was in the late ‘70’s, at the Academy of Music on 14th Street in New York, which no longer exists.
“So every time I’ve seen them in these giant arenas, they become these little figures. It’s often a very effective and enjoyable show but I literally couldn’t see them. And when they’d bring me down on stage, I’d look up and say to myself, ‘I wish I had a camera here.’ I couldn’t help it.”
The line-up is classic Stones – opening with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and closing with “Start Me Up,” “Brown Sugar” and “Satisfaction” – with some surprises along the way. There’s a superb version of The Temptations’ “(Just My) Imagination,” “As Tears Go By”, a riveting duet with Jack White on “Loving Cup,” a rollicking, sexy version of Live With Me with Christina Aguilera and a show-stopping performance of “Champagne and Reefer” with blues guitar legend Buddy Guy. Keith was so riveted by Guy’s performance that he promptly handed him his guitar to keep after the song ended.
The logistics of filming an unpredictable, organic event – which is what a Stones gig is – would be daunting for any filmmaker. Scorsese employed 18 cameras and a vastly experienced crew, including Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson, and many of the best directors of photography and camera operators in Hollywood in order to capture The Stones strutting their stuff. He worked in post-production with editor David Tedeschi, who also cut No Direction Home.
“Once we finally got our two machines working together - the Stones machine and then the movie machine - and all these cameras and the lighting…I can’t describe the adrenaline, and the heartbeat during the actual two hours of the concerts,” says Scorsese.
“The first song started, and then it seemed like it was over in less than a minute. It was like a whirlwind was hitting. I was seeing 18 images in front of me. I’d zero in on one camera and talk to a cameraman to be careful to move in here or there. It was a pleasure – absolutely terrifying, but a great pleasure.”
Q: Your Bob Dylan documentary was a huge critical success. Did you think about doing a something similar with the Stones?
A: Well, to make a history of the Stones, that would mean making a very different film. And quite honestly, what I wanted to see was the performance. In the long run I’d rather see what it is that makes them so special, even now. You’re allowed to age gracefully as a blues musician, a jazz musician or an opera singer, but there’s this age thing that comes into play with rock ‘n roll. But you’re seeing so many of the greatest rock stars and singers aging gracefully, and moving on to new levels of maturity and a power. So that’s what I wanted to see and capture. I was also interested in the nature of the shape changer, like Dylan, and in the performer who can create something in an audience that is so overwhelming that it swarms and overtakes the senses – the ecstasy of performance. It’s a primal condition in a way. A primal reaction.
Q: What’s harder, making a feature film or trying to capture the Stones live?
A: They’re 2 different things, 2 different types of narrative. With The Stones, once we got our two machines working together – the The Stones’ machine and the movie machine – and all the cameras ready with Bob Richardson’s lighting, once we got all that together, it was great. I can’t describe the adrenaline rush during the actual two hours of the concert. The first song started, and then it seemed like it was over in less than a minute. I was seeing 18 images in front of me. I’d zero in on one camera and talk to a cameraman to be careful to move in here or there. It was a pleasure – absolutely terrifying, but a great pleasure.
Q: The Stones come across in your film as such a powerful force…
A: True. “A force of nature.." A friend of mine said, “It’s your most upbeat film,” and that was very nice to hear. I think it’s a film about doing what you do until it’s over, and it’s only over when it’s over, at the very, very end. . You know, going back to making a longer documentary, that’s very tempting. But I realised that what I was really compelled to do was cover their performance. I’ve seen them on stage often over the years because Mick and I have been working on a project together on the music business, a feature film, and this is something I’ve always had in mind, consciously or unconsciously.
Q: When did you first see the Stones?
A: I think it was1970, so it must have been the tour that Robert Frank was shooting. For me it was all about what I’d heard before then. Not just music I’d heard in the 60s, like the Stones, but music from the 30s, 40s and 50s. It was all fed into my machine, which was filmmaking, and I keep going back to the well…music is where a lot of my Ideas about movies and moviemaking were formed - camera movements, energy, sometimes a kind of impatient energy which maybe goes too fast and from which I have to pull back, and it all comes from listening to that music. There’s also Dylan but I only started listening to Dylan when he did “Like A Rolling Stone,” after he’d gone electric. I had to go back later to discover the pre-electric Dylan. There’s The Band, of course, there’s Van Morrison who is still performing so brilliantly, there’s Neil Young, there are The Beatles. And the Stones, always the Stones.
Q: Can you explain your obsession with the Rolling Stones?
A: I think it stays with me because it’s blues-based and I like the blues. My brother played guitar a little bit and my father played a stringed instrument - I never actually heard him play but he told me he did, and there’s some footage of him with a mandolin. So I like string instruments. Django Reinhardt was the first music I remember hearing from the 78’s I had. The Stones, of course, came much later, and they were something else. They had an edge to them that you didn’t hear in other rock ‘n’ roll, and the lyrics are tough and irreverent. At times, their songs remind me of the lyrics and attitude of Kurt Weil and Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera. The neighbourhood I grew up in was very much like the world of Threepenny Opera.
Q: Their music, especially in the 60s, was very much a part of the counter culture.
A: Yes, but also observant of the whole culture. Look at “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadows” or “Mother’s Little Helper,” which is about middle class mothers taking pills, or “Shattered,” which is as sharp as a razor, about New York City in the 70s. But for me, it’s about the fact that The Stones’ music really spoke to me. I related to the lyrics of “Tell Me” or “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” because I knew a lot of people like that, who were like Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Some of them aren’t around anymore. I liked the bravado of it, the defiance. The provocation and the defiance – I like that. It stirs things up.
Q: Are you still working on the feature film project with Mick?
A: Yes. It’s a feature film and it’s being written at this time. .
Q: Does it focus on a band?
A: No, it’s about the music business - ruthless and tough.
Q: Which music do you listen to at home now?
A: It’s changed a little with a child in the house. My daughter is eight years old, and it’s a little difficult to play certain kinds of music, although I’m compiling music for her. Now I’m in the process of moving and creating a room where I’ll be able to listen to some more music. But generally it’s the older stuff. It’s Eric Clapton, and it’s The Band, Dylan…and the Stones. I just go back and forth. And then there’s classical - I’ve been listening to a lot of Baroque music. And I like Bach in the morning.ENDS