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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
When you see this movie you really understand how sanitised, safe and corporate the music scene is today.
The Stones were possibly the biggest band in the world at the time, so by today's standards it seems unbelievable they'd put on a free concert where the venue was changed at the last minute, the set was still being constructed as the 300,000 very fried looking hippies turned up, and there was no security for their satanic majesties except for the San Francisco Hell's Angels who were paid in beer and brought along pool cues with lead weights at the end for added security - as well as the standard knives and baseball bats. And they weren't afraid to use them, even on the bands, especially Jefferson Airplane's Marty Balin.
Throw in some of the original Satanic rock band's finest sinister creations and you get the real deal, not some pantomime metal/goth horror facsimile. At the time many people really did believe that they could change the world and looked to bands like the Stones as leaders of the counterculture, and you really get the impression things like this mattered a hell of a lot more, but after Altamont, well...
Nevertheless, the version of Under My Thumb that Jagger delivers as he's watching the terrible action unfold in front of him is, for whatever reason, devastatingly understated and desperate, compared to all the OTT cavorting earlier in the set. But it's the genuine craziness of the 'fans' that makes this film seem like it was shot on another planet. Gimme Shelter is the most rock'n'roll film ever made, for all the right and wrong reasons.
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