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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
After viewing footage of the stabbing of Meredith Hunter police identified Alan Passaro, a local Hell's Angel, as the man who did the stabbing, arrested him and charged him with murder. At his trial, however, closer examination of the footage showed that Hunter had pulled a gun before Passaro pulled his knife. Passaro was acquitted on grounds of self-defense. See more »
This sort of "artistic documentary" marks a milestone in our culture and it's really a must-see for people interested in history. The DVD version contains important additional features such as excerpts from a long KSAN call-in show the next day. Some of the callers were principals in this event and their commentary is valuable. In addition, there are some incredible still photo collections on the DVD that go even further to capture the climate at this event.
There is a lot of talk about "Hells Angels" this and that in the reviews here. The Hells Angels were not the primary problem - it was a terrible combination of sloppy organization, third parties who reneged on deals and contributed to the problem, and the concert-goers themselves. As some callers to the KSAN show commented, "I was at Woodstock, and Altamont was completely different. Nobody came together. We had no spirit of community. The whole thing was hurried and stayed tense throughout." So imagine 300,000 people working hard to get their groove on quickly - since the concert was only confirmed a day or two prior - using whatever they could roll up in a paper, stir into their cheap wine, or drop on a sugar cube. Then their heroes come up onto the 20'x20'x3'-high stage and viola, you have a massive problem on your hands whether security was Superman, Sgt. Joe Friday and his partner Bill Gannon, Acme Security out of Walla Walla, or the Hells Angels. There was going to be violence. It certainly didn't help that the organizers told the HA to park their bikes right next to the stage. With the crowd as it was, that was guaranteed disaster for a few people.
What a way to end the '60s flower power era.
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