The Palace Hotel, New York City
When Mick Jagger first pitched his idea for a new Stones concert film to Martin Scorsese, the idea was to document the band at its biggest concert to date. On the beach. In Rio. In front of an estimated one million fans. The full, gleaming, multi-million dollar spectacle of the Bigger Bang Tour captured by one of the world's great directors.
Scorsese had a much different plan in mind. He wanted to distill the Rolling Stones, well into their fifth decade as rock royalty, down to their bluesy, collaborative essence. For that, he would need a small venue and minimal production.
At a Sunday afternoon press conference in New York, Scorsese said that he was glad to have eventually won over the skeptical lead singer for "Shine a Light," which was filmed over two nights at Manhattan's relatively tiny, ornate Beacon Theatre, and which premieres April 4.
"I had a compulsion to film the band in an intimate setting," Scorsese explained, flanked at a table in a Palace Hotel conference room by Ronnie Wood and Jagger to his right, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts to his left.
Though Mick had to be convinced, Richards noted that he was a much easier sell on shooting in close confines. For one, he was already a fan of the Beacon Theater, which he called the kind of room that "wraps its arms around you." He later added pointedly that the Stones "didn't start out in stadiums, you know."
Throughout the thirty-minute press conference at New York's Palace Hotel, inside info on the filming of "Shine a Light," was plentiful, as were the laughs.
Mick, who seemed in control of the flow of the brief press conference at all times, had most of the good lines on Sunday. When queried about the health routine that allows him to stay so aerobic on stage, he declined to reveal his vitamin and gym regimens, saying "you'd all be doing them." On the difference between a normal concert film and an IMAX: "Well, it will be very larger." And asked if the Stones would ever record a tribute album, he said that he often performs a tribute to Martha and the Vandellas. In front of his mirror at home.
Later, when a South American scribe asked Mick if there was anything more fun than playing live, Mick demurred, promising to buy the writer a drink the next time he's in Argentina and offer his answer privately.
Even his serious moments got laughter from the packed room. When one writer pressed Mick to name his favorite Scorsese film, the singer replied "Kundun," which received a few snickers. "Uh, that's not a joke."
Scorsese meanwhile stayed on topic, and was forthcoming about the logistics involved in creating "Shine a Light." Not only did this include the challenge of filming in 35mm instead of video, which required reloading cameras mid-show, but also the difficulty of planning his direction and camera placement without an agreed upon set list. The latter concern provides the drama of the playfully tense opening sequences of "Shine a Light." The film shows Scorsese receiving the final sequence of songs just seconds before the opening guitar chord – a great filmic moment – and one that the sheepish director admitted on Sunday that they "fudged a bit."
Other highlights of "Shine a Light" are the rare newsreels that Scorsese and his editing team included, most of which feature ancient Stones interviews. In one spot in the film, Dick Cavett asks Mick in 1972 if he could see himself still doing this at 60. "Easily," replies Mick. On Sunday, when one journalist asked the singer the next logical question -- "Can you see doing this at 70?" -- a chortling Keith chimed in, "That's only five years off!" Mick, who still looks even in IMAX to be in his late 40s (he's 64), simply smiled.
As for Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts (who, in a chalk-lined black suit and natty tie, looked every inch the British gentleman), the pair remained mostly silent during the press event. Though Wood did get in one great line after Scorsese mentioned how the crowd at the Beacon really had seemed to embrace the spirit of the occasion. "Of course," said Wood, "they were all cameramen!"