Gimme Shelter (1970) Poster


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It used to be a lot more than Only Rock'n'Roll
bazibazbaz21 April 2008
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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Get the DVD
dtburr1 August 2006
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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Out of control
Greg-1328 March 1999
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.
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A Superb Rockumentary
st-shot12 August 2007
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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teddyryan7 October 2002
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 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.
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A harrowing must see
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 Shelter.

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.
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The underbelly of the 60s
macktan89411 May 2007
Warning: 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.
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Not just the best rock documentary...
asc8529 July 2008
Warning: 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.
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the end of rock 'n' roll
Lee Eisenberg5 July 2006
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.
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The Change Has Come
accattone7415 November 2010
Warning: Spoilers
(contains spoilers) Filmed over the course of ten days, Gimme Shelter is the film that catapulted The Maysles' Brothers and Charlotte Zwerin to the forefront of "direct cinema" – a term the Maysles' coined and preferred over the highly assumptive "cinema vérité". As originally planned, Gimme Shelter was to be a celebratory document of The Rolling Stones' 1969 tour of the U.S. that began with the Thanksgiving show at Madison Square Garden which opens the film, and ended with the free concert given at the Altamont Speedway near San Francisco. What the Maysles', Zwerin and their crew ended up with though, was the celluloid equivalent of an autopsy – the body dissected is the 1960s itself. In fact the only other movie that tenses me up more than Gimme Shelter is Stan Brakhage's faceless autopsy-room documentary The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes, a title that could be transposed with the Maysles' film. Cynical? Perhaps. But before Gimme Shelter, never before in a film had the actions of the micro reflected the failures of the macro in such a telling and startling way. Both Brakhage's and the Maysles' films depict decay, disintegration, the cold, harsh reality that befalls everything, be it life or credo.

But what makes a decade? This ethereal term we use to describe a grouping of ten years is always loaded with highly distinct connotations of its particular time – some are arguable, some are universally accepted. Strangely enough, despite whatever man-made structure the 'decade' has as its skeleton, key social and historical events always seem to occur soon before, during or immediately after its cusp, events that serve as both endings and beginnings. The moment that defines the passing of one decade into another is always open for debate. However, the actions that transpire in this brilliant and sobering film actually give flesh, albeit bloodied, to the unarguable exact cusp between the 1960s and the 1970s.

Was Woodstock, which had been only four months before, a fluke? Half a million people coming together, without serious incident, for three days of peace, harmony, music, and love. Incredible evidence that the progressive love-work of the decade had accomplished its promises. Yet in Gimme Shelter half that number of people swirl into an abyss. And at its obscure center are The Rolling Stones themselves – charismatic to no end, yet languorous and floating in ennui. Whether they were primadonnas or not that night, once Mick Jagger hits the stage he truly becomes the foreboding dark-knight, the chanting shaman, the sinister devil's agent, all those labels with which he'd (and still has) been copiously laden.

The event that made Altamont (and therefore this film) infamous – the death of Meredith Hunter at the hands of stage security Hell's Angels – is disclosed at the beginning, much like film noir actually, making the 80-minute interim before the fact be all the more nail-biting. So powerful is the actual murder scene – when you know what's going on, but no one else really does (or do they?) – that I doubt you'll ever be able to listen to "Under My Thumb" again without thinking of Gimme Shelter, and this indelible moment. Meredith Hunter's loud green suit. The Hell's Angel stabbing him twice in what looks like the back of the neck. Does Mick notice what's going on? One moment you think so. The next it's hard to tell. All the while he's singing, "…I can still look at someone else." It's chilling as well that the closing, repeated refrain of that particular song is, "Take it easy, babe…"

In Woodstock, the 'happenings' are all jovial. When you see people tripping out or high, it comes across as good vibes. In Gimme Shelter, the Maysles' didn't shy away from the bad trips. Look at the faces of those squashed against the stage during the climax; the chilling, paisley-clad hippie during "Under My Thumb" whose just to the right of Mick – it's like watching a lysergically-infused lycanthrope going through the moon-change; the frenzied, seemingly autonomous (thereby anti-hippie) dances during the Jefferson Airplane's "The Other Side of Life"; even Mick Jagger himself gets hated on the moment he lands at the Speedway. It's as if the whole day was cursed from the start. Urban legend has it that Kenneth Anger had done just that to Mr. Jagger, for only months prior he dropped out of the lead role in Anger's Lucifer Rising (leaving Anger high and dry), and for not properly acknowledging Anger's influence on his songwriting, namely "Sympathy For the Devil".

Once the murder had been recognized in the editing room, did the Maysles' choose to make Gimme Shelter one big bad vibe, or was that all they had to work with? We'll probably never know for certain. But by most accounts of those who were really at Altamont, it was no editing ploy. The decade ended that cold early December day, but at least it was able to die where it was born. "It's down to me, the change has come…" Indeed.
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