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I've watched Gimme Shelter now three times over the last few days. It's mesmerizing, and not just because the Stones are my all-time favorite band. You can't keep your eyes off the audience at Altamont; the filmmakers showed some very memorable shots, such as the girl who was enjoying the concert yet at the same time crying, the guy who gave Jagger a pleading look, the Hell's Angel giving Jagger a menacing glare for some reason. And how can anyone not like live Stones music from this period? The demo from Brown Sugar (my favorite song, Stones and otherwise), the thundering Gimme Shelter at the end, the live Sympathy for the Devil are incomparable. The film showed all the great music and the horror, but I also liked watching band members' reaction to the chaos: Paul Kantner chastising the Angels for knocking out Marty Balin, Grace Slick saying that bodies should not be on top of each other unless love is intended, Keith Richards threatening not to play and Mick Jagger trying in vain to stop the violence. And the look on Jerry Garcia's face is priceless, especially when you learn the Dead decided not to play that day after learning what was going on. As I said, the best rock documentary ever made.
The film Gimme Shelter has aged a lot better than its counterpart Woodstock. It captured a darker side of the 60's counter-culture, an excess of drugs in the midst of a complete lack of order and a shameful lack of organization. Probably by 1969 meth had more of a grip on people as well. Whatever, the vibes just weren't there that day, and this film brilliantly brings that into focus with scene after scene of the stoned out confusion that swirled on around a stage that was only a foot or two above the ground, with the roiling crowd pushed forward from behind and beaten back from the front by Hell's Angels. The one interesting point is that the police weren't much in evidence, something that would never happen now, and this was truly a free concert in more ways than one.
There's often a lot to be said for distance from a volatile subject, at
a point when hindsight can kick in and some clarity can be had, however
the filmmakers behind "Gimme Shelter" did not have that luxury.
Instead, as is the basic scenario behind any of the greatest film
documentaries, what began as one thing (in this case, a concert film)
slowly spun off into a completely unexpected territory (in this case,
proof of an era's demise), and the true gift comes from what can be
made of it all.
In retrospect it seems obvious that using California's Hell's Angels for crowd control would prove to be a bad idea, and likely fatal. However, while watching "Gimme Shelter" it is clear that the main concerns are not for public safety, but where all of these rock fans still feeling the communal buzz from Woodstock will park. What the film ultimately documents are the last vestiges of innocence that may still have lurked within a generation that had lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy's assassination, six years of Vietnam, and the overall upheaval that was America in the 1960s.
It is a truly fascinating film that unfolds with a consistent, unsettling sense of dread, even with the knowledge of what will occur. The film builds to the events at the Altamont Speedway, and ultimately becomes a palpable taste of the period for a modern audience, but for audiences in 1970 it represented more of a visualization of the cultural chaos that had engulfed the country.
Granted,The Woodstock Music & Art Fair had it's share of downers & bummers than the starry-eyed,stoned out audience members would admit to (there were several drug overdoses,a tragic death of a sleeping audience member by being run over by a tractor in a field next door to Max Yasgur's farm,and there was Abbie Hoffman being kicked off the stage by a surly Pete Townsend of The Who,who was in a foul mood that day),but hands down,The Altamont Free Concert holds all of the cards for perhaps what had to be one of the biggest downers of the end of the 1960's,as far as concerts go. Besides the main attraction (The Rolling Stones),there was The Jefferson Airplane,The Grateful Dead,The Flying Burrito Brothers,and others. The mere fact that The Rolling Stones, hiring the Hell's Angels had to be what was obviously the biggest blunder move of all times. The film,directed & filmed by Albert & David Mayles,etc.depicts most of the ugly vibes that was present at the fated festival that was supposed to equal,if not rival Woodstock,and would eventually leave a sour taste in the (collective) mouths of concert promoters for years to come (subsequent concerts in the 1970's would also feature violence,drug overdoses,rampant capitalism,and worse yet,a plague of armchair Marxists,who were basically, over privileged college aged young people who had an attitude that "music belongs to the people,so the music should be free,man"---come on now,were they not aware of the concept of "supporting the arts"?). In the film, we also get to see some footage of some of the better gigs that the Rolling Stones played on that tour,such as the Madison Square Garden show earlier on that tour. This is a well put together documentary of an unfortunate event in Rock & Roll history. There are at least two versions of this film in existence. One,rated 'R' by the MPAA,that contains some vulgar language,nudity & that infamous murder scene during the Rolling Stones concert sequence,on camera by the Hell's Angels,and a watered down PG version,minus most of the stronger language,nudity,but still has the murder scene,intact. Take your choice. (POSTNOTE:there is a remastered,director's cut of the film re-released a few years ago that is the original 1970 version,with additional footage,that is unrated by the MPAA)
I saw this movie in its first run in 1970. I was ten years old. I'll rent the DVD someday, but I think I can comment on the impression it made on me then. I remember being intrigued when Mick Jagger is in the editing room being shown footage of the stabbing. What stayed in my brain was that this person (Mick Jagger) was just as horrified by what happened at his concert as anybody else. As a kid, I equated celebrities with authorities, and seeing Jagger's expression of astonishment as he watched the footage was, as it were, an eye-opening experience. I went with two friends who were about eleven. When the mother of one of them picked us up afterwards (this being an era when an adult wouldn't have a second thought about leaving a group of children at a suburban movie theatre for a few hours) my friends described the movie in detail. They gave her minute details about the chaos, the murder and the ugliness. When I piped in to say I liked the part with the naked girls the car got quiet. My friends looked at me as if I'd stabbed the audience-member myself. Even at eleven years old, they got the message and knew the talking points. I was still in my Woodstock mindset. They were already children of Altamont. At the time I didn't much like the music. I'd still rather hear Gram Parsons sing "Wild Horses" than the Stones, even though they wrote it. I'm going to rent this and look for ol' Gram Parsons. He's listed in the credits.
This movie is pretty uninteresting except for the Altamont part, rent it for
that alone it's well worth it (as well as seeing someone tune a Moog
Modular). Most of the rest of the movie is incomprehensible and dull,
between trying to decipher the Stones' thick accents and no use to subtitles
to indicate what is going on, the whole thing seems rather
As everyone knows, the films chronicled the horribly disfunctional Altamont concert of '69, which was an interesting counterpoint to the peace and love Woodstock. There was neither peace nor love at Altamont. This was mostly because of some very poor decisions made by the Stones and promoters, for example having a stage little more than a foot off the ground for 300,000 people?
Just for the record, apparently the Grateful Dead used the Hells Angels as security all the time for their concerts in the 60's, it was common practice. The problem at this concert is that there were no leaders present, and the soldiers got way out of hand. Ironically the Grateful Dead didn't even play, when they saw what was going down after they arrived, they split right away.
In any case, the concert ended in death, which seemed the unavoidable conclusion to this mess. Considering the concert was in December of '69, it was a sad and poetic end to the 60's.
Having just seen the re-release of Gimme Shelter I was blown away by the naivety of surroundings of this era. It's funny how you view the footage of Altamont Speedway compared to the barriers and laminates of modern day concerts. You just have to remind yourself that this actually happened and that no pen could ever write such a saga. The footage in Gimme Shelter' is the closest rock music has ever come to a scenario quite like Jonestown.
If Woodstock was the last gasp of hippiedom, then Altamont was the stake
it's heart. Altamont was an event that should never have happened, but
because of the greed and arrogance of the Rolling Stones it turned out to
one of the darkest chapters in not only rock and roll history, but of
society in general.
One reason I blame the Stones for what happened is the fact that originally the concert was going to be held in Golden Gate park featuring The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane and the Stones were going to show up at the end unannounced. A few days before the concert was to take place, Jagger held a press conference and announcing the fact that they were going to appear there. This set off a chain of events that led to the concert being moved to Altamont Raceway. First, the city wouldn't give the promoters a permit to have the concert in the park. This caused the concert to be moved first to Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma. Then, less than 24 hours before the concert was to take place, the owner of Sears Point rescinded his offer to have the concert there, so the concert was then moved to Altamont Raceway in Livermore, California. The Stones then made the fateful mistake of asking the Hell's Angels to act as security. They had used the London chapter of the Angels as security at their Hyde Park free concert the previous July. However, the British Hells Angels were nothing like their United States counterparts. All these ingredients led to one disaster of a day, which culminated in the death of an 18 year old black concert goer by the name of Meredith Hunter. His murder was the exclamation point on the most turbulent decade in U.S. history.
I heard about this picture (and the event) 30 years ago. Now I have seen it
at the Stockholm Film Festival.
This is a perfect and very skilful example of how you can manipulate people from a documentary. This film is about the tragic free Rolling Stones concert in Altamont 1969, where Hell's Angels was in charge of security and there one person was killed. There is a lot of violence. You can see the Angels beat people up with billiard cues. They are accused of hitting the lead singer of Jefferson Airplane. When comes the Stones concert. All the time something is going on in front of the stage. The hippies are fighting, the Angels are fighting, the Stones stop the concert on several occasions, but why does all this happen?
One would have liked to see all the material from all the many different cameras which were used. You see a black man rising a gun and become stabbed to death. What is the background? The idea of directors Albert and David Maysles are probably to make us just as confused as the rest of the audience and certainly to put our blame on the Angels. It is a strong brilliant documentary, but where are the explanations? Why are we left alone after the movies is over? Who's fault was it really at Altamont?
Boy, you could write a lot about the significance - cultural and
otherwise of what happened at this big rock concert and why....but this
is a website to review films. So rather than going on and on about how
naive and stupid these concert promoters were to hire thugs as
"security," suffice to write that the movie speaks for itself. It shows
what happened, and you can make up your own mind.
However, much of the time is taken up interviewing mindless stoners and clueless rockers, none of whom sound intelligent enough to properly discuss the situation. This documentary does give you a good idea of the period and how easily one could go from a peaceful Woodstock to this disaster. In fact, watching this film just makes me all the more stunned that nothing really tragic at Woodstock with all those kids, although the organizers there obviously didn't make a few crucial mistakes the guys here made.
This documentary shows how many dumb things were allowed to take place, and just makes you shake your head in disbelief. For that, they did a good job with this film, accomplishing, I assume, what they desired.
It was fun to go back and see clips of The Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers (you couldn't beat the names of rock groups back then!) and Ike and Tina Turner. However, as we see, the "counterculture" wasn't all good rock, "peace and love," folks; there were so real bummers and lives ruined.
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