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|Index||76 reviews in total|
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.
Certainly not a filmed concert, this important documentary describes, in a very sensitive and powerful way, the incredible human bestiary that rushed towards the 1969 free Rolling Stones show located on Altamont speedway, California. Complete disorganization, brutal security staff, drug abuse will turn this rock party to an awful black celebration that will lead to more than a human sacrifice : the destruction of a new kind of innocence. Often shocking and disturbing, sometimes dreadful, "Gimme shelter" brings to us not only the pictures of a riot. It makes us think about the difficulty for men to live as social animals when they're unable to repress their predator instincts. Let's finally mention the great musical first part of the film, and the quality of the direction.
I can't get enough of Mick Jagger in his prime. New York City. 1969. He introduces himself and then says, "Welcome to the breakfast show." This guy is the man. But, then comes Altamont. This part is frightening. It makes you see why the 60s was so f-ed up. You've got British concert promoters playing the stereotypes to a tee. You've got hippies using the words, "groovy." You've got all the evidence to believe that flower children were as stupid as portrayed in their modern context. But, the most scary thing...it is what is. The Hells Angels are brutal. They get angry and they get picked on. The retaliate like a wild animals. People are being beaten with sticks and women are crying, but the show goes on. Yes, this was the end of peace/love. If the foundations of WOODSTOCK were to give us any hope in a hippie ideal, they were not there for THE ROLLING STONES. And, so we point the finger. But don't point it at Mick Jagger. He did his best. And, there's a freeze on him at the end, just as the roaring guitar of Keith Richards explodes into "Gimme Shelter." It is one of the coolest moments I have yet to witness on celluloid.
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.
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
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was 19 when the Stones played at Altamount. At the time, I wasn't a
big Stones fan; I was loyal to the Beatles and saw the Stones as
interlopers. If the Beatles were good day sunshine, the Stones were the
dark side sympathy for the devil. It wouldn't be until I was into my
30s that I'd give the Stones my serious attention, despite Altamount.
Now that I can revisit Altamount through the long lens of time, I accept that its chaos and violence grew out of a combustible brew of people and events, inspired by the free range of drugs infecting the times. Innocents depended on peace and love to regulate the crowd, not knowing that the Hell's Angels have that name for a specific reason. People tend to romanticize the period, forgetting its manicness, filthiness, and limitless freedom. There were no boundaries, emphasized in the film by the crowd encroaching on the stage while Jagger naively invokes our "oneness." In fact, it's Jagger's demeanor that rivets me watching this film again, at the age of 56. On stage that night, I see his naiveté, his fear, his middle-class breeding emerging underneath all that color and style and hair. I can see that he truly doesn't understand the violent reality of this American culture and for a moment he's knocked off his script because the crowd isn't going along with the act as they usually do. And that is what saddens me, realizing that at that time the Stones were just an act, young Mick the gay jester flying around on stage with polyester wings and pink scarves.
Now they are really the Stones, grown into the real thing that I adore. No doubt Altamount spurred their growth, as it did a generation of toked-up kids who tasted the blood of anarchy that night at a rock concert.
October 1969 marked a month of tragedy for rock and roll. The Rolling
Stones were on their US tour when they stopped to play a free concert
at the Altamont Speedway in San Francisco. It was a concert event that
was supposed to be the Woodstock of the West, but it ended up being
just the opposite. Hell's Angels were hired for security and, as the
chaos of the show ascended, the Angels became more and more violent
towards the crowd until the night ended in the stabbing and murdering
of at least one of the concert goers. Gimme Shelter is the documentary
which focuses on this tragic occurrence in brutal detail. The film
mixes concert footage of the Rolling Stones, footage of the night at
Altamont, as well as the band watching and reflecting on that terrible
night. It's an extraordinary and harrowing film which will shake you to
your core as you watch the raw, unedited footage taken at Altamont and
the unending brutality which seems so unnecessary and so easily
preventable. It's a remarkably disturbing experience to watch Gimme
I honestly believe it was a stroke of genius to make this film so simple. There was no need to tamper with the Altamont footage or add anything extraneous to it. Gimme Shelter is perfect in the way it just shows us all of the actual footage from the concert, as well as leading up to the concert. There's no narration, no extra pictures or clips. It is just the footage put together in a way that details that terrible night in the straightest way possible. There could not be a more thorough account of the events at Altamont. This is the finest way to view something this out of the ordinary. The footage we watch in Gimme Shelter is stunning and unforgettable. It's safe to assume that 99% of the audience at that show was on acid, and the results are amazing to watch. There is an incredible amount of footage of people having wild acid trips, doing all sorts of bizarre things. It is amusing to watch at first, but quickly becomes deadly when Hell's Angels are introduced into the equation. Thus we have a scenario that is nerve racking to witness unfold and we are then filled with immense anxiety and dread as the situation grows into the tragedy it morphed into by the end of the night.
Of course, what makes Gimme Shelter more than just a simple reflection on the tragedy at Altamont Speedway is the footage of the Rolling Stones watching the Altamont footage and reflecting on it all. The shock and awe is very obvious in their reactions and hearing what they have to say about it is fascinating. They don't say much about it because of all the shock, but they say enough and they display enough body language to convey their loss for words at this event and how horrified they are that something like this had to happen under their watch. This is possibly the saddest aspect of the entire situation. The fact that someone was murdered is horrific enough, but the fact that it had to happen in the name of rock and roll is deafeningly sad. It is painful to watch the messages of peace and love flourish in that concert audience, only to be violently contrasted by the over reactions of Hell's Angels. It's a sickening occurrence that seems to evoke more innate sadness than anger. It's terrible to watch but it makes Gimme Shelter one of the most powerful and provocative documentaries you will ever see. This film is an incredible experience that you will not soon forget.
There's sort of two documentaries here: one shows the actual concert in
Altamont, and the other shows the Rolling Stones watching the footage
to see where everything went wrong. In the concert part, one can easily
tell that all the peace and love inherent in Woodstock was
unfortunately not to be here; in the review part, one can see that the
Stones are stoned.
Yes, I guess that we have to admit that the '60s were great while they lasted, but this was unfortunately the end (no doubt the whole Manson thing also contributed). But either way, it's a great documentary. I suspect that the Stones got satisfaction by working on it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
...but also possibly the best documentary ever made. I honestly am
surprised this film is not mentioned much for the greatness that it is.
The luck that the Maysles brother had to record one of the most seminal
events in the history of rock and roll is incredible. I only wish they
could have caught on camera Marty Balin getting punched out.
The first time I saw this film, I was devastated by what I had seen. I hadn't realized how much they actually got on film, and as stated above, I have always wondered why this film is not talked about with the gravitas that it deserves...perhaps because it's considered just a "rock'n roll" movie? As I've gotten older, I might say that "Capturing the Friedmans" is the best documentary I've ever seen. But since that came more than 30 years after "Gimme Shelter," I put these two films in rarefied air.
"Gimme Shelter" is definitely a well-made documentary, although not
really better made than many other similar documentaries. The strength
is what exactly this one is showing, namely the death of 60's innocence
at a sleazy unorganized concert packed with drugged-out hippies
watching the world's greatest rock and roll band. With that at hand,
it'd be really hard to make a bad film.
Even though gigantic festivals like Altamont were new at the time, it is hard to imagine just how clueless people were in organizing the event. Even with the parking, when they are talking about how they have room for only a (relatively) small number of cars when they need room for many times more, the answer simply is a suggestion to ask the landowner next door to use his land to park cars and hope for the best, and that's that.
There probably is no better film where you can get that certain "feel" for the late 60's hippie-rock crowd and scene. It's really sad in a way because unfortunately, all the hippies themselves come across as clueless themselves, as if The Stones have all the answer's to their problems.
The whole mix was amazingly combustive, with The Stones, 300,000 drugged-out hippies, and plenty of showerless Hells Angels just looking for an excuse to kick someone's ass. It's hard to imagine anyone giving the security responsibilities to such a mammoth event to a group of guys that appear as if they'd have a difficult time simply *spelling* the actual word "security." But it all does make for an amazing portrait of a truly incredible event. Truth is, Altamont never actually changed anything much; instead, it was a wakeup call for those who still for whatever reason, refused to acknowledge that the times have already been changing indeed.
The footage at Madison Square Garden is actually the best concert footage in the film, interesting seeing how the house lights were on all the time and how the band played on stage without any props or effects (KISS was still 5 years away).
Many may disagree with this, but on the DVD, the newly remixed music in the film actually sounds too clean, especially during the concert sequences. The audio sometimes sounds so good, that it makes the film, itself gritty and hardcore, look "fake" and "dubbed" all too many times.
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