Can you picture yourself at age 60 doing what you're doing now?" asks Dick Cavett of Mick Jagger in a 1972 TV interview. "Easily. Yeah," replies the soft-spoken, impossibly sexy rock star. Back then, of course, nobody knew what a 60-year-old rock-and-roller looked like—the question itself implied that the notion was comical. Cut to the stage of the Beacon Theatre in New York in the fall of 2006, where Martin Scorsese and a team of 17 cinematographers captured the Rolling Stones for Scorsese's dynamite concert film "Shine a Light." The eloquent creases in Jagger's face testify to his 62 years, but the crazily lean, prancing and spinning body tearing up the stage is, if anything, even more exuberant than the boy I remember setting ablaze the Boston Garden in 1965. If there's comedy in it, it's the sweet smile of survival that lights up Keith Richards's grandly depraved face—he looks more and more like a Tolkien tree creature who's gathered a lot of moss. Or the ageless dexterity of Ronnie Wood's finger work—and his undying devotion to his Rod Stewart shag cut. Or the look of winded amazement on Charlie Watts's poker face after the group has polished off an incredible smoking version of "She's So Hot."
That 1982 song from "Undercover," the third in their set after "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Shattered," may be the least-known song on the playlist, but it's the moment when "Shine a Light" totally takes off—check out the erotic body language between Mick and backup singer Lisa Fisher—and Scorsese delivers a Stones concert film of shimmering intimacy. "Shine a Light" has a few tasty backstage glimpses of Scorsese and the Stones preparing for the gig (the co-host that night is none other than Bill Clinton). There are snippets from early press conferences with Jagger and Richards and Watts, playing coy ingénues to the inevitably square men who ask them the inevitably clueless questions about Youthful Rebellion.
But Scorsese isn't interested in making a definitive documentary, or even conducting the kind of backstage interviews he gave us in the wonderful "The Last Waltz," about The Band's farewell concert. This movie is about giving us a privileged glimpse of the Stones in action. It's a record of an astonishing musical chemistry that has been evolving, with no signs of calcification, for nearly five decades. As a bonus, there are delicious guest appearances by Buddy Guy and Jack White, obviously delighted to be partnering Jagger on "Loving Cup." The third guest appearance, by Christina Aguilera belting out "Live With Me" with Jagger, is stronger on showbiz flash than real soul.
The list of camera operators, working under the supervision of director of photography Robert ("The Aviator") Richardson, is like a Who's Who of A-list DPs: among them John Toll ("Legends of the Fall"), Robert Elswit ("There Will Be Blood"), Andrew Lesnie ("The Lord of the Rings"), Emmanuel Lubezki ("Children of Men"), Stuart Dryburgh ("The Piano") and Declan Quinn ("Leaving Las Vegas"), with Albert Maysles, who made the Stones doc "Gimme Shelter," shooting behind the scenes. Scorsese and his editor, David Tedeschi, spin this prize footage into a kick-ass two-hour celebration of rock-and-roll longevity. Will the band still be doing it at 70? When you're having this good a time making music, why stop?