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Topic: USA Today feature on SAL Return to archive
3rd April 2008 01:43 PM
Mel Belli Martin Scorsese rolls with the Stones for some 'Light' filming
By Edna Gundersen, USA TODAY

Early in Shine a Light, assistant director Joe Reidy warns his boss about a searing special effect deployed during Sympathy for the Devil: "If Mick stands in front of the light for more than 18 seconds, he's going to burn."

Martin Scorsese ponders this.

"You mean, like, flames?" he says. "We cannot burn Mick Jagger."

Ultimately, the singer gets pressure-cooked but not charbroiled by the scalding lights trained on the Rolling Stones in Scorsese's documentary, opening Friday in theaters and on 93 IMAX screens.

Reminded of that scene, Scorsese says, "I told Joe, 'Obviously, I want the effect, but don't set the man on fire.' (Drummer) Charlie Watts asked if it was normal movie lighting. We said yes. We were totally lying. Mick knew it was all about the lighting and that we needed free rein. Those lights are intense. Any exhaustion they felt was from that heat."

The Stones long ago proved they can take the heat. And dish it out. With dauntless cool, the venerable rockers provide ample sizzle in Shine a Light's career-spanning hit parade, captured over two shows at New York's Beacon Theatre in late 2006 during the band's A Bigger Bang tour. A soundtrack, out this week, delivers the audio in a 16-song disc and 22-song twin deluxe set.

Shine was not on the Bang agenda until film producer Steve Bing, who co-financed Jonathan Demme's Neil Young: Heart of Gold, asked Jagger if he'd be interested in a Stones concert movie. The singer's response: "Not really."

Jagger, phoning from a Caribbean hideaway, recalls: "It's so time-consuming, and we had so much on our plates. But then I got an idea about shooting the Copacabana Beach concert, and we saw that Marty had a hole in his schedule."

Jagger pal Scorsese was an ideal fit. The Stones fanatic, whose films pulsate with the band's songs, is an old hand at music documentaries. After getting a taste as second-unit director on Woodstock, he directed 1978's The Last Waltz, an episode of 2003's 10-part The Blues and 2005's No Direction Home for PBS.

Scorsese, however, wasn't keen on hauling 50 cameras to a Rio de Janeiro spectacle in front of 2 million fans.

"I was better suited to do something more intimate in a smaller venue, where I can get involved with each character and actually see how the Rolling Stones work," says Scorsese, calling from the Boston set of Ashecliffe, his adaptation of Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island. "Every time I saw them in an arena, I would wish I had a camera up close to film them in a way they've never been shot before."

Initially indifferent, Keith Richards perked up at the mention of Scorsese.

"We were on the road doing this tour forever," says the guitarist, 64, also dialing in from an island escape. "I thought, 'I know it's coming. Someone is going to say that we've got to make a movie.' And it's not like it's our first movie. I get a bit bored watching myself.

"But you can't go wrong with Martin Scorsese. He's obviously got an idea and a vision. I wanted to see the cinema of it, how he saw it, more than just seeing the Rolling Stones. I enjoyed working with him. He stayed out of my hair."

Richards worried that the conspicuous cameras would inhibit players, particularly Jagger. "I said to Marty, 'Don't let Her Majesty be too aware of the camera.' I didn't want certain people to be so aware of making a movie that they don't do a Rolling Stones show. But Mick played it straight. And the cameras were unobtrusive."

Jagger howls at this assessment. Cameras, cranes and gear jammed the Beacon.

"There was more crew than audience!" says Jagger, 64. "When you've got 20 big cameras in a tiny space, it's not normal. At one time, Marty wanted four cranes. I said, 'It's not going to happen.' They're huge. I was totally aware of the cameras. This is an event created for a movie."

Jagger and Scorsese, 65, often arm-wrestled. Shine a Light opens with the director, days earlier, anxiously requesting the set list so he can prep camera angles. He gets the rundown seconds before showtime.

"Marty wanted to coordinate the cameras, but I told him it doesn't make any difference what number we start with because I still don't know what I'm going to be doing," Jagger says. "He's used to being in control, with actors following a script."

Scorsese says he wanted the first three songs shot without stopping the cameras, a dicey bet when using 35mm on long takes.

"It was a logistical problem," he says. "Some cameras went down during She Was Hot. The trick was getting cameras in the right positions and to not get in their way. That's where the humor of the first 10 minutes comes in. It was like two giant machines coming together. We had an intense couple of weeks, but it was all very polite. I didn't want to get in the way with the cameras — well, not too much.

"Elements of chance and improvisation with the camera were very important. The cameras were constantly moving on the dolly track. It was like walking a tightrope."

Bill and Hillary Clinton, along with her mother, appear to greet the band, and guests pop up for duets. Richards has no idea who Christina Aguilera is when she joins Jagger for Live With Me, but he's so stirred by Buddy Guy's version of Muddy Waters tune Champagne & Reefer that he hands the bluesman his guitar when it's over. "That was the high point," he says. "I wanted to honor the man at the peak of his powers. I don't give guitars away often. I'm cheap. And it was one of my favorites."

After vowing to forgo interviews and old footage, Scorsese backpedaled and inserted flashbacks "just to reflect the chaos and confusion of what it's like to be the center of attention for so long," he says.

"This is the most documented band in history besides The Beatles. We found 400 hours of archival material. You can ask them all the questions in the world, including the one they're asked all the time — 'How long are you going to continue performing?' — and what's left is what was there at the start: the music. After 35 years of dodging the same question, they still thrive on performing. Every song is a special piece of creative energy."

One clip finds guitarist Ronnie Wood declaring himself superior to Richards.

"He will say so at the peril of his life," Richards counters. "We don't think, 'Who's better?' I'm not Segovia. It's a matter of how well you play together."

So how do he and Wood respond when Jagger straps on a guitar?

"We laugh our heads off!" Richards says. "The eyebrows are raised. The thing is, a band is about teamwork. I've been on stage since 1962. There's no time for competition. What comes to mind is, let this tiger out of the cage."

Since the '60s, Scorsese has heard and visualized movie magic in the Stones' gritty, blues-fueled sound, which has "been an obsession of mine," he says. "The music created a wellspring of inspiration, and my energy level seemed to connect with it."

His only disappointment about Shine a Light may be that Gimme Shelter, which looms large in Goodfellas and The Departed, didn't make the set list. And he's sorry he missed a doozy of a DVD extra that presented itself when Scorsese and his crew, flying by private plane from the Berlin Film Festival to Los Angeles in February, stopped in Newark to drop off Richards.

"I got collared by the cops and dragged off," Richards says. "Something about the numbers in my passport, but I think it had to do with supervisors wanting to meet me. Martin saw me physically being arrested. He's sorry he didn't get that scene."
3rd April 2008 01:55 PM
but he's so stirred by Buddy Guy's version of Muddy Waters tune Champagne & Reefer that he hands the bluesman his guitar when it's over. "That was the high point," he says. "I wanted to honor the man at the peak of his powers. I don't give guitars away often. I'm cheap. And it was one of my favorites."

Didn't Hendrix steal Keith's strat once? And Keith was so impressed by him that he let him keep it. Did he give a guitar to anyone else?
3rd April 2008 02:17 PM
mrhipfl wrote:

Didn't Hendrix steal Keith's strat once? And Keith was so impressed by him that he let him keep it. Did he give a guitar to anyone else?

I figure Ive spent close to twenty grand on Stones stuff through the ages..maybe more ...with nary a pick to show for it!

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