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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 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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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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Subject is stronger then the film-making
stevenfallonnyc30 December 2003
"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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Nervy, scary flip-side to "Woodstock"--but what, if anything, has been learned from it?
moonspinner5517 September 2006
A free concert given by rock group The Rolling Stones in 1969 at the Altamont Speedway near San Francisco reaches a fever pitch when the rowdy crowd clashes with the Hell's Angels, who were enlisted in place of actual security--ultimately resulting in tragedy. With The Jefferson Airplane as their opening act, the Stones hit the stage in the midst of uncontrolled frenzy and palpably ugly vibrations. Singer Mick Jagger is unsure how to handle the unruly mob, a dirty orgy of terror, and the Stones' music seem to take on an even more ominous, precarious edge as a result. This documentary astutely captures the underbelly of rock and roll, with contempt and hatred hanging in the air. The cinematographers, brave enough to get their cameras into the most precarious positions, do terrific work, but is the film a relevant signpost for our times or merely a blueprint for the chaos we see today? Certainly it was shocking for such animalistic behavior (and a knifing) to bring down a public event, but the whole sordid mess doesn't seem to have left its impact. Is it history just repeating itself or is society condemned to making the same errors in judgment over and over again? In either case, the film isn't easy to sit through, and its highly-concocted finale (with a somewhat indifferent Mick Jagger sitting and watching the horrific footage pre-release) leaves behind even more ill will. **1/2 from ****
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Under My Thumb…
Alex da Silva16 April 2017
…is the song that the Rolling Stones are performing when the stabbing of Meredith Hunter takes place and is caught on camera. The film is basically about the Altamont Festival and the documentary style puts you right there at the festival. We watch the tension building – the fights between the Hells Angels and the crowd and a crazy scene when Jefferson Airplane have their spot stopped when the Angels attack the lead singer Marty Balin and then rush the stage and take control of the microphone! And all of this is happens during the daytime before the now well-known tragedy that was to follow. This Jefferson Airplane incident doesn't seem to be mentioned these days but it's pretty big news! We watch as fellow lead singer Grace Slick looks on helplessly. Tensions just continue to mount until the Stones take the stage and start performing when it gets dark and the documentary succeeds in relaying that atmosphere. By this time, you can feel that something bad is going to happen as there is constant trouble and interruptions to the gig. It's obviously a very threatening and scary concert to be at and we have to be grateful to the documentary-makers for capturing it on film.

I'm not sure why "Sympathy for the Devil" is sometimes mentioned as the song during which Hunter is stabbed. The Stones do have to stop this song and appeal for calm during this song before starting again after fighting between the crowd and the Angels. Was this when Hunter was first attacked and stabbed before he returned? Anybody know? The Angels are fascinating to watch as are the crowd who dig the music as are the organizers of the event. As for the Stones, where's Bill Wyman? You get more of Mick Taylor than you do of Bill. Perhaps he was just deemed too boring and edited completely out. I remember watching a documentary in which some guy who was dealing with the Stones was reprimanded by Jagger for not asking Mick about band issues. The quote from Jagger went something like "Charlie's the quiet, shy one, Keith is off his head, Ronnie does what I say and Bill is boring. If you want to ask anything about the band, you come to me". Perhaps control-freak Jagger just edited Wyman out.
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"Why are we fighting? Why are we fighting?"
classicsoncall21 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
If anything, Altamont proved that you can't reproduce or manufacture a phenomenon. Superficially billed as 'Woodstock West', the concert turned destructive and violent with the presence of the Hells Angels purportedly providing security for the event. The flower power of the Sixties turned into a convoluted mix of dope, rock and roll and stoned out hippies tripping to the music of the Rolling Stones while all hell was breaking loose in front of the stage where a man was murdered and no one seemed capable of stopping it. The legacy of Altamont closed out a decade that had started out promising enough with the British Invasion, Motown, the surf sound and assorted other musical styles. The Rolling Stones were a big part of that era, and knowing of their antics back in the day, one wonders how they managed to stay in shape to be playing right up to the present. As a chronicle of the Altamont concert, "Gimme Shelter" is capable but largely unexceptional. There's not a Stones song you won't recognize if you're a fan, some done better than others, and a handful presented merely as background music for a contemplative Jagger and Charlie Watts as they review the events captured on film prior to this picture's release. Credit goes to Jagger and Grace Slick for trying to gain some control when things started to heat up with the crowd and the Hells Angels, but ultimately Jagger doesn't appear too shaken by what happened. He seems to show more surprise at the remarks of Sonny Barger dumping on the band and admonishing the concert goers - "When they jumped on an Angel, they got hurt".
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"Everybody be cool now"
Ali Catterall19 November 2009
It wasn't one of the Rolling Stones' smarter ideas to hire the Hells Angels as security for their Woodstock cash-in at San Francisco's Altamont Speedway Free Festival in 1969. Oh, and how do we pay them for services rendered? Hmm, let's see - $500 in beer ought to do it.

David and Albert Maysles' notorious documentary-cum-snuff movie captures the madness - and murder - that ensued, as a young, black Meredith Hunter is stabbed to death by the Angels live on camera, while the Stones' frontman whimpers from the stage: "Who's fighting and what for? Everybody be cool now."

Memo to Jagger: You're not some conduit for Satan, you're a mincing, top-hatted, former drop-out from the London School of Economics, and you're completely out of your depth.
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Still has the power to frighten and disturb
Howard Schumann19 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The Rolling Stones free concert at Altamont Speedway in Livermore, California in the autumn of 1969 was supposed to be the West Coast's version of Woodstock, but today Altamont is remembered only for the violence that provided a jarring ending to a roller coaster decade. Gimme Shelter directed by the Maysles Brothers and Charlotte Zwerin, brilliantly restored on a criterion DVD, chronicles the Rolling Stones four-month tour in New York, Boston, and Florida, beginning as a straight rock n' roll show and ending as an account of a homicide that, thirty seven years after the event, still has the power to frighten and disturb.

The film opens with footage of the Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden performing some of their biggest hits such as Satisfaction and Jumpin' Jack Flash. It then follows the group to a recording session in Alabama, shows them watching a video of the Altamont concert weeks after it took place, then flashes back to preparations for the concert and the negotiations between Melvin Belli and Woodstock promoter Michael Lang. The site at Altamont was chosen only two days before the show after two other locations, Golden Gate Park and Sears Point Raceway, had fallen through. While hundreds of people worked very hard to put the event together, it was feared that there was inadequate time to adequately prepare for the estimated 300,000 young people arriving from all over the country, though no one anticipated the violence. As the concert began, the fears soon turned into reality and the Maysles Brothers' camera captures it all and in the process makes documentary history.

The gathering of a cross-section of young people, unlike Woodstock, had no feeling of community. There was no obvious police presence, inadequate toilet and medical facilities, no plan to deal with cases of drug overdose, insufficient parking, and a one-foot high stage that invited easy access for stoners to rush. The Hells Angels, a group of bikers from the Bay Area, were hired by Stones manager Sam Cutler at the suggestion of The Grateful Dead to protect the stage in exchange for $500 worth of beer (though they now claim it didn't happen). Though the majority of Angels simply did their job without incident, the attempts of some to maintain order by clubbing people over the head with pool cues and throwing full beer cans at spectators created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. While drugs of all sorts were readily available to all, the biggest drug and alcohol abusers that night may have been the Angels themselves who insanely tried to drive their bikes through the middle of the crowd. Small scuffles broke out during the performances of Ike and Tina Turner and the Flying Burrito Brothers, and the violence escalated when Santana and Jefferson Airplane took the stage and Marty Balin was knocked unconscious by an Angel, during a scuffle near the stage.

When Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones came on, the violence spread and the camera captures scattered outbursts of fighting taking place near the stage as Jagger tries to soothe the crowd. The Stones inappropriate choice of the song, "Sympathy for the Devil", only added to the atmosphere of menace. As Mick Jagger began to sing "Under My Thumb", in the space of one minute and twenty four seconds, the hope that Woodstock had generated only four months earlier quickly ended. A black 18-year old gun-wielding spectator, Meredith Hunter, was stabbed five times and beaten to death by Hells Angel Allan Passaro who later claimed self defense in a 1972 trial. Why Mr. Hunter brought a gun to a rock concert and what he planned to use it for has never been answered. When the assault occurred, Jagger stopped singing and tried to calm everyone down, finally calling for an ambulance but his admonitions to the crowd "Why are we fighting? What for"? were futile and he finally had to keep singing simply in order to prevent a full scale riot. In a fitting conclusion, Maysles shows The Stones reviewing the first cut of the film, depicting a very subdued Mick Jagger rewinding the editing machine to watch the murder again in slow motion with a very pained expression on his face.

While Altamont was indisputably an ugly event, some critics used what happened at the event to discredit an entire generation and their idealism, telling us that the idea of a peaceful gathering of a large number of young people was doomed to fail (despite Woodstock's success shortly before). One writer claimed that the concert "exposed the ugly underbelly of the 60s and ended a period of innocence and belief in getting along". In reality, it did no such thing. If innocence died at the end of the sixties, it was not because of Altamont, Mick Jagger, the Hells Angels, or because the values of the hip community (labeled as "hippies" by the mass media) did not work. It died because of the escalation of the Vietnam War, the ignoring of public protests, and the insanity of Charles Manson.

It died because the murders of John and Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King left a gaping hole in our collective psyche and threatened to destroy our sense of trust in the government. Innocence died because of the disillusionment with a decade that began with the Civil Rights Movement and the Peace Corps and ended with the bombing of North Vietnam and Cambodia after President Richard Nixon had campaigned on bringing "peace with honor". Altamont, for all its symbolic significance to some, was not a defining moment in history, nor was it the end of peace and love. It was a concert that went tragically wrong.
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Interesting but badly in need of insight and discussion from those involved
bob the moo3 September 2006
In 1969 the Rolling Stones were on their tour of America and planned to finish it with a surprise appearance at a free concert in Golden Gate park San Francisco. However when this fact came out at a Stone's press conference the numbers predicted to attend swelled and the gig had to be moved. After several changes and at the last minute, the Altamont Raceway was selected as the venue. The organisers asked for a chapter of the Hells Angels to be in charge of security. During the concert many scuffles broke out and one young man was stabbed to death. With the Stones themselves, the Maysles brothers look back over the concert in regards the performances and the wider impact the event had.

Although not quite as good as I had hoped it would be, this film was still pretty interesting as it captures "the end of the sixties" in the Altamont concert murder and the performances of the Stones in their prime. Although it was the former I had come for, the music was pretty good and the sound quality was surprisingly good. The one big complaint I have about the footage from all the Stone's performances is that I had to assume that the rest of them were on stage with Jagger – because the camera stays tight on him and never leaves him for long. It is a bit annoying but I suppose it doesn't affect the music.

The most gripping part of the film though is the actual events around the Altamont concert itself. The build up is interesting because you can see the seeds of chaos being planted in the planning stage – with the "secret" coming out being followed by the last minute planning and general disorganisation. This is followed by the concert itself which gradually becomes more and more chaotic. It is gripping to watch the fights break out and see things spiralling out of control – it is impressive how well the footage came out. Having seen Salesman, I knew the Maysles' tended to sit back and just film their subjects but this only works if you can get them to speak or emote. Sadly here Mick and Keith simply watch the concert footage and, aside from looking a bit shocked and asking a few questions they don't say anything. Certainly there is nothing approaching insight or discussion from anyone. Although it is possible to draw your own conclusions from the footage to a degree, it cries out for discussion and reflection which is not forthcoming.

Without this it is nowhere near as interesting or valuable as it should have been. The performances make it worth seeing and watch the farcical organisation translation into a violent and chaotic concert is an interesting experience. Although their fly-on-the-wall technique is respected amongst filmmakers, I did find myself wishing that someone other than the Maysles' had made this film.
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More suspense film than concert film
dukesunflo10 December 1999
I've never seen a concert documentary that concerned itself more with building a feeling of dread and suspense than showing the hits. Even if you don't know the events surrounding Altamont, you get a sense that the end of this concert won't be a rousing finale, but death. I've never seen a stranger concert film, but ultimately it is an unforgettable experience, with an absolutely horrifying capture of a murder in front of the stage.
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Footage from only Altamont ,please?
OldSchoolWhitey6429 November 2003
When I saw the new version,with the new footage added,I was hoping for more footage from Altamont.Instead,we get only more footage of the Stones in the studio,and more performance footage of their show at Madison Square Garden.I've always wanted a version ,that was strictly about Altamont,because,ultimately,that's what the main focus of the documentary is,in the first place.Show more footage of the other acts that played(Or,tried to play,only to have their sets interrupted,by Hell's Angels attacking fans,that they thought were out of control).There has to be more footage of the Flying Burritos,Santana,C,S,N,&Y,Jefferson Airplane,etc,and there certainly has to be more footage of Angel assaults on innocent people in the crowd.Make it about 3 hours long,like "Woodstock".It would give us a much better view, of what that ugly,horrible day,was really like.
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Film Gives You A Good Feel Of The Period & Dumb Decisions
ccthemovieman-19 October 2007
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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The Death of the 1960's
Brian Washington9 August 2002
If Woodstock was the last gasp of hippiedom, then Altamont was the stake in 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 be 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.
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A heavily mediated doco, showing us a very subjective view on what happened
Dan Browne20 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This film is really only interesting for Rolling Stones fans and Media Studies students. It is fairly long and drawn out so if your watching it simply for viewing pleasure then your likely to get bored. The film is heavily mediated by the Maysles brothers and the Rolling Stones to make them look better, as if they had done nothing wrong and to show they could not have done anything to prevent the stabbing. This is were it gets interesting for Media Students. Its a corporisation of the genre and really only shows the hippie movement in a negative light. So its also fairly subjective in its views.

Watch it for a good example of how media can be used to change people views or to see the Rolling Stones 'in action' but you should take everything with a grain of salt. This is not to say however that the Rolling Stones are 'bad people' merely a band trying to clear its self of a negative name.
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this movie is about the end of the 60's
vincent-2723 October 2002
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 confusing.

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.
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How to make people believe what you want
stensson9 November 2001
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?
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Great capture of rock's darkest day
grantss10 May 2016
Great capture of rock's darkest day.

A documentary on the Rolling Stones' 1969 US tour and the tragic events that concluded it. We see footage of their concerts and of them making the Sticky Fingers album in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. However, the main focus of the film is on one concert - Altamont Speedway, outside San Francisco, 6 December 1969. A free concert, it is the Stones' idea and it was meant to be the Woodstock of the West (Woodstock having occurred four months earlier). Other bands performing included Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner, Crosby Stills Nash and Young and Santana. However, it is far from being the peace and love of Woodstock. Part of the problem is that the Stones hired the Hells Angels as security. The other problem was that a large portion of the crowd were high on drugs. Friction ensues. During the Stones' set, Meredith Hunter, high on methamphetamine and armed with a gun, makes a lunge for the stage and is stabbed to death by the Hells Angels. The peace and love era of the 60s was over.

A very well made documentary, especially considering the limited material the producers had to work with. We don't just see the concert footage but also the Stones and the film makers sitting in the studio going through the footage. We see their thoughts and reactions to what occurred. Some of this feels contrived or staged but for the most part it provides a narrative to what happened. Otherwise we would just have concert footage with no explanation of what to expect or what was going on.

The fact that the Meredith Hunter incident is mentioned early on in the film helps the tension in the movie. You know something is going to happen, but you don't know when. You see the friction preceding the incident and there's now an inevitability to it all. It plays out like a thriller, ultimately.

The camera work at the concert contributes too. The roughness of the shots adds an edginess and feeling of anarchy to the proceedings.

The footage preceding the Altamont concert is quite interesting too. We see some Stones concert footage from other concerts, and get complete songs from these concerts. These are probably the only enjoyable live music moments from the movie, as the Altamont songs are too soaked in tension and the threat of violence to fully enjoy.

The Sticky Fingers footage is great too, seeing a classic album being formed. In the movie it only lasts a few minutes but it deserves a documentary of its own. The highlight was seeing Jagger and Richards listening to an early take of Brown Sugar. Quite illuminating to see artists' views of their own work.

Overall, one of music's most infamous incidents, quite accurately captured.
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