Interview By: Michael Dance
For many people, Martin Scorsese is the best living film director in the world. There was his legendary ’70s streak of classic films, like Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, which culminated in 1980′s Raging Bull, sure. But unlike many of his other contemporaries, he just kept making acclaimed films: The Color of Money. The Last Temptation of Christ. Goodfellas.
His past three dramatic films – Gangs of New York, The Aviator, and The Departed – have all been nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, with The Departed finally taking home both prizes.
Now, once again, Scorsese has churned out an exciting, beautiful film filled to the brim with Rolling Stones songs. The difference this time, though, is that it’s an actual Rolling Stones concert film: Shine a Light, in theaters on April 4th. Luckily, we had a chance to listen to Scorsese’s trademark mile-a-minute dialogue riffs at a press conference for the film.
“Ha, well, that’s an interesting question,” he begins when asked why the Rolling Stones have played such a big part in his films. “The music deals with, at times â€“ it reminds me of when I went to see The Threepenny Opera, back in 1959, 1960 at the Theater de Lys, and how the music affected me, and what that was saying, what that play said, and the lyrics. The lyrics were so important to me in that particular play. And I grew up in an area that was, in a sense, like The Threepenny Opera [as in, a very working class area]. And I think at times the Rolling Stones music had the similar effect on me: it dealt with aspects of the life that I was growing up with around me, or that I associated with or saw, or was experiencing and trying to make sense of. And so it was tougher, it had an
Ironically, the Stones don’t play the one song in Shine a Light that Scorsese has used time and time again. “Mick said at one point…he said, ‘I want you to know, Shine a Light is the only film you’ve made that ‘Gimme Shelter’ is not played in.’” He laughs heartily. “When I use ‘Gimme Shelter’ in a film â€“ it’s just as apropos of the world we’re living in today, ‘Gimme Shelter’ â€“ when I use it in a film, I don’t remember that I’ve used it before. I say, ‘Well let’s use that one,’ and they’ll say ‘Well Marty, you’ve used it before,’ and I say, ‘Well that’s all right.’ I keep forgetting, you know? But it’s something that, well, the music has been very important to me over these years.”
It’s almost, he says, in his DNA. For example, when he was in the editing process for The Departed, the obscure Stones song ‘Let it Loose’ came to mind. “The scene where Jack Nicholson sat down next to Leonardo DiCaprio and said, ‘Do you know who I am?’ The tone of that, and the mood, I heard that sound from the song. So I played it again, and I tried a couple of other songs afterwards, because invariably you say, ‘Well that’s the first one, it can’t be right, it works, but working on the first try? It can’t be that way.’ So we tried some other songs. But we went back to ‘Let it Loose’ and we placed it just at the right moments, in between the dialogue, for the highlights of the song. But it had the tone, and again the edge, that I think the scene had, and
When Scorsese and the band were in the initial planning stages of filming a concert, Mick Jagger originally wanted him to film an outdoor concert in Rio de Janeiro that would be the Stones’ biggest concert ever. What they eventually settled on, with Scorsese’s urging, was the exact opposite â€“ the comparably tiny Beacon Theater in New York City.
“The importance of making it at a smaller venue, for me? Well, we contemplated, we discussed doing it at a bigger venue. And I looked into it,” he says. “But while I was doing that, while I was trying to prepare for that, I realized I’m better suited, I think, to try to capture the group on stage, on a smaller stage. More for the intimacy of the group and the way they play together, the way you see the band work together, and work each song. I found that to be interesting. More than interesting: it’s a compulsion of mine. I like to be able to see that, have that, be able to cut from one image to the other, movement, that sort of thing. But really, it’s about the intimacy of the group, and how they work together.”
It’s not the only time Scorsese and Jagger had their differences; in the beginning of the film, the two argue over whether or not Scorsese can use moving cameras (necessary for the film, but very distracting to the band), and Scorsese apparently only receives the set list seconds before the concert began.
It turns out, though, that at least some of the arguments were exaggerated in the film for comic effect. When the set list is mentioned, Scorsese cracks up. “Well, we fudged that a bit. I mean, it felt that [rushed], but that wasn’t exactly how it was…someone did purloin it for me. I’m not going to use
The camera issue, on the other hand, was almost a catch-22. “You know, the idea is to capture the spontaneity of the group, and the word ‘capture’ means you have to control in some way, but you can’t control spontaneity. Therefore the cameras have gotta be in the right position. Then I wanted to go a little further and have them all be moving cameras, but you can’t have them collide with the performers, so you have to be very careful and all this sort of thing.”
Additionally difficult was the decision to use 35mm film, which runs out quickly, instead of video, which doesn’t. “I was concerned that we got as much as we could on film, because the film was running out of the magazines at ten minutes a clip. So I wanted to get the first three songs, completely, with all ten or fifteen cameras, whatever it was. But inevitably, some of them are going to go out. So we had to have backup cameras.”
Interspersed throughout the concert, in between the songs, are a number of short clips from old Rolling Stones interviews. “David Tudesky’s the editor of the film, and we worked together almost nine, ten months,” Scorsese says. “The music came together rather quickly in the film, and that was very enjoyable. The hardest part was putting together the clips. I think David had over four hundred hours of footage that he sort of culled for the documentary sections. Archival footage. And then he chose about forty hours for me to see. And we worked from that forty hours, and it was a matter of balancing: saying something [with a clip], but not saying too much, and then saying nothing with it. That was the key. And balancing it so it wouldn’t
Up next for Scorsese is Shutter Island, which like The Departed is a Boston-centric film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The film is currently shooting. “It’s great to be back in Boston, it’s a little cold right now. A little cold, especially at night. Yeah, yeah. But, we’re working in Medford and a few other places outside of Boston, and it’s really good.”