To cite Gimme Shelter
as the greatest rock documentary ever filmed is to damn it with faint praise. This 1970 release benefits from a horrifying serendipity in the timing of the shoot, which brought filmmakers Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin aboard as the Rolling Stones' tumultuous 1969 American tour neared its end. By following the band to the Altamont Speedway near San Francisco for a fatally mismanaged free concert, the Maysles and Zwerin wound up shooting what's been accurately dubbed rock's equivalent to the Zapruder film. The cameras caught the ominous undercurrents of violence palpable even before the first chords were strummed, and were still rolling when a concertgoer was stabbed to death by the Hell's Angels that served as the festival's pool cue-wielding security force.
By the time Gimme Shelter
reached theater screens, Altamont was a fixed symbol for the death of the 1960s' spirit of optimism. The Maysles and Zwerin used that knowledge to shape their film: their chronicle begins in the editing room as they cut footage of the Stones' Madison Square Garden performance of "Jumpin' Jack Flash," and from there moves toward Altamont with a kind of dreadful grace. The songs become prophecies and laments for broken faith ("Wild Horses"), misplaced devotion ("Love in Vain"), and social collapse ("Street Fighting Man" and, of course, "Sympathy for the Devil"). Along the way, we glimpse the folly of the machinations behind the festival, the insularity of life on the concert trail, and the superstars' own shell-shocked loss of innocence.
Gimme Shelter looks into an abyss, partly self-created, from which the Rolling Stones would retreat--but unlike its subject, the filmmakers don't blink. --Sam Sutherland
is the landmark documentary about the tragicallyill-fated Rolling Stones free concert at Altamont Speedway on December 6, 1969. Only four months earlier, Woodstock defined the Love Generation; now it lay in ruins on a desolate racetrack six miles outside of San Francisco.
Before an estimated crowd of 300,000 people, the Stones headlined a free concert featuring Tina Turner, The Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers and others. Concerned about security, members of outlaw biker gang The Hell's Angels were asked to help maintain order. Instead, an atmosphere of fear and dread arose, leading ultimately to the stabbing death of a fan. What began as a flower-power love-in had degenerated into a near riot; frightened, confused faces wondering how the Love Generation could, in one swift, cold-blooded slash, became a generation of disillusionment and disappointment. Gimme Shelter
has received a full restoration of visuals and audio, and ispackaged alongside an exclusive 36 page booklet containing snapshots and essays detailing the events at Altamont and the end of the Rolling Stones US tour in 1969.