Publish date:

A couple days ago I said I didn’t want this blog to turn into a movie review site. And now I’m thinking… why the hell not?!  I mean, we’re here to write movies, right?! So shouldn’t we be looking at movies, TV series, online shows… even plays and live performances… and talking about them?!



The truth is, I just want to justify today’s post, which—I’m gonna be honest—has virtually nothing to do with writing.

It’s just about a damn good movie that has me so pumped up I had to post about it. I’m not even sure where to start, so I’m just gonna say this:

Go see Shine A Light.

I don’t care if you don’t like concert movies. I don’t care if you don’t like the Rolling Stones. It is a hands-down, unbelievable, knock-you-on-your ass experience. (My wife hates concerts and doesn’t care about the Stones… and she loved it.)

The truth is: I’m not even a huge Stones fan. I mean, I like them… and I’m listening to a Stones playlist on my iTunes as I write this… but I love music… and one thing this blog could use is a lot more music talk.

(Yeah, it’s a screenwriting blog, but so what? I’m the blogger, and if I say it needs more music talk, it needs more music talk. Besides, I do my best writing when I’ve got the stereo cranked. In fact, whenever I start a new project, I begin by making a playlist of songs that put me in the “head space” of that particular story, like making a soundtrack for the film even before it’s written. It’s a great way to get into the tone and style of the movie.)

Shine A Light is Martin Scorsese’s documentary/concert film of the Rolling Stones’ performances at New York’s Beacon Theatre during 2006’s A Bigger Bang concert tour… and Scorsese does a fantastic job not only of capturing the music itself, but of bringing to life each member of the band through their on-stage performances. Sure, he puts you right on stage as Mick Jagger struts and swaggers about, larger than life, but he also nabs every subtle, nuanced glance between the bandmates… as well as quick private moments. Scorsese may be a master storyteller in the world of scripted film, but here he lets the music and the stage show tell the story. Every crag on Keith Richards’ face, every tawny sinew in Mick’s serpentine body becomes a plot point or a moment of character development.

Mick, after all, is no longer the gorgeous frontman he was forty years ago, when he was full of sex and untamed energy. But he’s now a master artist in total control, a musical Michaelangelo who knows his way around rock-and-roll better than anyone working today (not just around a stage or a single song, but around rock-and-roll itself—what makes it tick, how it rises and falls, etc.). In fact, as the show goes on, you can actually see Mick get younger… he seems to “de-age” before your very eyes, dancing, bouncing, jumping and shaking around stage like a 25-year-old kid eager to taste his first groupie.

Keith, meanwhile, is like a wraith… withered, yet still powerful… hunched over his guitar cranking out bluesy riffs and chords, eyes squeezed shut. He’s so into the music, lost in his own world, that every time he opens his eyes he looks shocked and overjoyed that people are actually watching.

Charlie, on the other hand, comes across as everyone’s favorite great-uncle, the genial old guy who’s just tickled to be included. He’s constantly grinning and winking at the camera, as surprised as everyone else that the band is still going strong… but loving every minute of it.

Scorsese also does an amazing job of illuminating the shows’ “supporting characters”: the peripheral band members… the backup singers (namely, Lisa Fischer)… even the front row audience members we come to recognize over the course of the film (mostly a lot of hot twenty-something chicks… and one greasy-looking guy with a ponytail).

But Scorsese also smiles upon the guest artists who appear. Jack White shows up for “Loving Cup” and, smiling like a 12-year-old (when doesn’tJack White look like a 12-year-old?), looks like he’s waited his entire life to share a stage with Mick Jagger. For me, Jack is one of the highlights of the film because he looks exactly how I would look if I were on stage with the Rolling Stones… as if it’s all gonna be downhill after this, but he’s gonna savor every awesome moment. Buddy Guy shows up for a cover of Muddy Waters’ “Champagne and Reefer,” and Mick duets “Live with Me” with Christina Aguilera.

For almost two hours, these guys rock through nearly every Stones hit you could want to hear: "Brown Sugar," "Shattered," "As Tears Go By" (maybe my personal favorite), "Sympathy for the Devil," "Start Me Up," "Satisfaction," "Jumpin’ Jack Flash." And whether you’re a huge Stones fan or not, one thing is clear…

Whether talking about rock stars, screenwriters, painters, or dancers, artists like this come along only once every few generations. There are a million bands and musicians that have written one or two amazing songs… or even one or two amazing albums… just like there are writers who have written one phenomenal book, or two brilliant poems, or a handful of stunning articles. But the Stones have been churning out great music for almost fifty years.

And by the way—I don’t consider the Stones’ to be groundbreaking pioneers. In fact, you could probably make an argument (I’m not going to, I’m just saying you could) that the Stones are not one of rock’s most influential bands. (Again—I’m not making the argument; I’m just saying—I’d understand if someone did.) They didn’t start a new genre of music like Led Zeppelin or Nirvana or The Sugarhill Gang. And everything the Stones did, the Beatles did first: first album, first Ed Sullivan appearance, first film, etc. I suppose what the Stones’ influenced most was the rock-star persona of the incorrigible, unkempt, irrepressible youth. Which—let’s be honest—may be a more important contribution to rock-and-roll than anything music-related.

Yet none of this diminishes their sheer awesomeness. Because at the end of the day, the Rolling Stones are one of the most infectiously loveable rock bands on the planet. Put the Rolling Stones on stage… either live or in front of Martin Scorsese’s cameras… and they are gonna rock your ass off. That’s the beauty of both the band and the film… when you leave the movie theater, you feelAWESOME. You have been undeniably moved. And if that’s not the purpose of great art… whether a gut-wr
enching novel, a side-splitting screenplay, a tear-jerking poem, or an ear-blasting rock concert… then I don’t know what is.

(Oh, and by the way—if you can, see the movie in IMAX. Way cool. And the sound is amazing. Every time the audience roared, I looked around because I actually thought people around me were cheering. Swear to God. It’s awesome.)

Anyway… rock on, screenwriters…



The 2020 Writer's Digest Poetry Awards Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the 2020 WD Poetry Awards!


Your Story #113

Write a short story of 650 words or fewer based on the photo prompt. You can be poignant, funny, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.

E.J. Levy: When Your First Draft is Your Best Draft

E.J. Levy: When Your First Draft is Your Best Draft

Author E.J. Levy discusses her journey with drafting and redrafting her historical fiction novel, The Cape Doctor, and why her first draft was her best draft.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 569

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write an "In the Name of Blank" poem.

Writer's Digest July/August 2021 Cover

Writer's Digest July/August 2021 Cover Reveal

The July/August 2021 issue of Writer's Digest features a collection of articles about writing for change plus an interview with Jasmine Guillory about her newest romance, While We Were Dating.

Lacie Waldon: On Writing What You Know ... But Keeping it Interesting

Lacie Waldon: On Writing What You Know ... But Keeping it Interesting

Debut novelist Lacie Waldon discusses how her agent encouraged her to write what she knew, but then her editor made her realize that what she thought was boring might not be the case.

Pedal vs. Peddle (Grammar Rules)

Pedal vs. Peddle (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use pedal and peddle with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Marissa Levien: On Pinning Down Your Novel's Middle

Marissa Levien: On Pinning Down Your Novel's Middle

Debut author Marissa Levien discusses how she always knew what the beginning and the end of her science fiction novel The World Gives Way would be, but that the middle remained elusive.