Originally filmed in December 1968, "The Rock and Roll Circus" was originally intended to be released as a television special. The special was filmed over two nights and featured not only ... See full summary »
In December of 1969, four months after Woodstock, the Rolling Stones and Jefferson Airplane gave a free concert in Northern California, east of Oakland at Altamont Speedway. About 300,000 people came, and the organizers put Hell's Angels in charge of security around the stage. Armed with pool cues and knifes, Angels spent the concert beating up spectators, killing at least one. The film intercuts performances, violence, Grace Slick and Mick Jagger's attempts to cool things down, close-ups of young listeners (dancing, drugged, or suffering Angel shock), and a look at the Stones later as they watch concert footage and reflect on what happened. Written by
In November of 1969 I attended a Rolling Stone Concert at Boston Garden. The Stones were nearing the end of their fabulously successful 69 American tour and they were as good as I had ever heard or seen them. The sellout crowd was mesmerized and surged to the stages edge without violence and just rolled to the music. It was a brief period in rock history when such things were possible. The Peace and Love generation had settled into a groove with just tripping on the music and nothing more. Woodstock had been the prototype. A month after I saw them hypnotize Boston Garden the concert at Altamont put an end to the dream.
David and Albert Maysles recorded this nightmare in their brilliant documentary Gimme Shelter. The film opens with the Stones, flush with success planning a free concert for fans at Golden Gate Park. The venue is switched to a racetrack in Altamont and things slowly begin to deteriorate from there. The Stones naively hire Hell's Angels ("The Dead said they were cool") for security. When things become unruly the Angels respond harshly. As Jagger sings a man with a gun rushes the stage and is stabbed. The Maysles cameras are in the right place many times. The emphasis is not on Jagger as he and the band perform, instead it is the threatening and tripped out people near him on stage that fascinate.
The concert itself only takes up a small but gripping portion of the film which follows the Stones on a some of their tour and their reactions from watching the documentary's rough cut. Seldom do rock stars allow themselves to filmed in such compromising a position. The Maysles also capture the logistics side of the concert business with famed lawyer Melvin Belli and tour director Sam Cutler at task.
In less than half a year the Utopian dream of Woodstock lay in ruin at the Altamont Speedway. The Maysles provide much of the proof in Gimme Shelter.
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