The recent films of Martin Scorsese have shown a distinct tendency to be flabby and aimless - I'd not exclude his Oscar-winning The Departed form either of those charges - so it's with a feeling akin to a spiritual rebirth that I come to praise his new Rolling Stones concert film Shine a Light as his flat-out best film in many years. Not that it's a surprise that a chance to work with the Greatest Rock Band in the World would so completely revive the creative batteries of a director noted for his love of rock music. Though it does not redefine the boundaries of the genre in the way that his seminal The Last Waltz did in 1978, Marty's love letter to the Stones is much more than alright; in fact it's a gas.

During their two-year tour promoting the album A Bigger Bang, the band stopped off for two nights, October 29 and November 1, 2006, at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan, a far cry from the massive auditoriums they've commanded for years upon years. The stop served two purposes: one was to facilitate a pair of extremely high-cost charity shows, and the other was to enable Scorsese to shoot this very film. This is not a Gimme Shelter type of scenario, where the filmmakers tagged along with the Stones for a particularly chaotic span of time; this was designed from the ground up as a constructed event to be captured by some of the most fussed-over cameras in the history of the music documentary.

This is hardly something Scorsese tries to hide: indeed he winningly pokes fun at himself in what almost amounts to a short film preceding the concert itself, in black-and-white handheld video shot by none other than Albert Maysles, best known for making, that's right, Gimme Shelter. As the Stones tour around the world, Scorsese and his crew map out every inch of the Beacon, trying to block every possible scenario before the stage has even been constructed, and generally irritating Mick Jagger, who finds the idea of numerous swooping cameras to be entirely obtrusive, and who retaliates by withholding his set list until the last possible moment. Is all this unvarnished truth, or playful docudrama? Who cares, really: it's a fun introduction to the two dominant themes of the film, Scorsese's myopic craftsmanship and the band's restless vitality. That might well be a pose in and of itself - the Rolling Stones, at this point in their career, are masters of image control - but if it is, it's a pose that I'm perfectly willing to embrace, given how enthusiastically Marty has done the same.

No two ways about it: this is a film made by a director desperately in love with his subjects, eager to do everything in his power to make them look as sublime as he can. That might speak to a certain unseemly lack of critical distance (compare the other major Stones films: Gimme Shelter, Sympathy for the Devil, Cocksucker Blues), but to have done otherwise would have meant that Marty were not Marty. He is an unapologetic fanboy, and this is a gift to the objects of his veneration, who are made to seem superhuman almost, in the halo-like backlighting and dynamic framing that suggests 63-year-old Mick Jagger to be the most acrobatic man ever to set foot on a stage.

Aiding the director is his cinematographer from The Aviator, Robert Richardson, himself almost superhuman, and here working on his very first concert documentary. And aiding Richardson is the most shockingly overqualified group of "camera operators" ever assembled in one place: a group including Robert Elswit, Ellen Kuras, Andrew Lesnie, Emmanuel Lubezki and John Toll, among others. That kind of firepower goes a long way towards explaining why there is such a pronounced superfluity of impeccably-framed shots in this film, and they're worth their weight in gold. As a glossy commercial for the agelessness of the Rolling Stones, this might very well be the most visually appealing concert film in history. I might even say that if a person who hated the Stones wandered in by accident (certainly, there can't be too many people around who love them as much as Scorsese), the incredible beauty of the footage might be enough all by its lonesome to change that person's mind.

For all its energy and visual marvels, Shine a Light does suffer at least slightly from the director's entirely uncritical approach to the band. In an effort to shore up their mythology as an act that can never die, Scorsese incorporates footage from four decades, with interviews of a shockingly young Jagger admitting that he has no clue where it's all going to end, moving forward as the various members of the group become more and more open about the idea that nothing will keep them from going out and being the Rolling Stones except maybe death. In itself, there's nothing wrong with this footage, but there's a lot of it and it interrupts the music just a bit, in addition to the distinct air of triteness around it (A rock documentary with vintage interviews? The director of The Last Waltz had more imagination than that, Marty).

There's also the simple fact that Shine a Light really doesn't have any bite to it. The music has a bite, of course, and Jagger's famously aggressive sexuality is well-served by Richardson et al's cameras. But on the whole the film is awfully content to let the band slide by on their mythology, and while the spectre of Death hangs on the edge of the frame almost constantly - his name is Keith Richards, and he plays guitar - this is by and large a study of a band that seems entirely happy to believe their own press. Compared to something like Jonathan Demme's astounding Neil Young: Heart of Gold (shot by none other than camera operator Ellen Kuras), where it seemed a little surprising that Young didn't fall down dead right in the middle of the show, this kind of gung-ho idol worship is, if not "disappointing," certainly "un-brave."

But there are flaws, and then there are quibbles, and all I can really find wrong with Shine a Light counts as a quibble. It's a virtually perfect meeting of artist with subject, and I am confident in saying that there has never before existed footage of the Rolling Stones on-stage that made their music seem quite as wonderful as it does in this film. It doesn't need any of the thematic heft that it doesn't have, because it's too busy being ass-kickingly awesome. Somebody once said: it's only rock and roll, but I like it.