The Martin Scorsese-directed film about the Rolling Stones Shine a Light hits theatres today.
There's much reason to be optimistic for this film. Scorsese, after all, directed one of the greatest rock 'n' roll performance docs of all time, "The Last Waltz," about the last public performance of The Band. The idea of him tackling the Rolling Stones certainly peaks the curiousity.
A lot has changed in 30 years, though. "The Last Waltz" was, among other things, a tribute to the volatility of rock 'n' roll. And yet the film displays how that very same instability, that need to dance dangerously close to the precipice, is precisely what makes rock 'n' roll great.
The Stones haven't even seen the precipice in almost three decades. Their sound stopped evolving right around the time of "Start Me Up." And they've since become, simultaneously, the stuff of legend and one of the biggest symbols of capitalism on the face of the planet.
In a rather lackluster AP review on "Shine a Light," Christy Lemire says that "now that they're in their 60s, they (read: Mick) almost seem like parodies of themselves." There's a big element of truth to this, but the real tragedy of watching Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie doesn't come from age, it comes from the knowledge that everything that once made the Stones incendiary and defiant is now just an empty act.
When five working class white boys from Britain started speeding up African-American Blues and R&B in the early 60s, there was something deliberately provocative about it. When they swaggered onstage like proud peacocks, it was enough to make the establishment bristle. But as the record industry found ways to evolve, adapt, and contain, the ever successful Stones became intertwined with that same establishment. The appearance of Bill and Hillary Clinton in "Shine a Light" only highlights this. And a flashy stage show is a poor substitute for actual substance. From Jagger's famous strut to the monster light shows, all of it can certainly be called spectacular, as long as you remember that the root word is "spectacle."
The Stones have become the artistocracy in a musical genre that was never meant to have an upper-class. While they will always retain a basic enjoyablity, it's hard to even think of them without being reminded of this contradiction.