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Gimme Shelter 
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Gimme Shelter 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.
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
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The free concert at Altamont was a bad idea from the start. It was a mess in conception and a total disaster in execution. What I didn't expect was the footage of the lawyer on the phone to the various people involved in organising this hippie nightmare. It's a salutory reminder that for all the talk of free love and flower power, nothing really shifted in the real world. John Lennon said as much when he said that the lawyers kept laywering, the politicans kept politicking (I'm parapharasing here) but 'we all just dressed up'. No clearer proof is given than in this documentary. The unfeasibly long line of cars parked along the route to the concert (there was nowhere near enough parking space at the venue), the simmering anarchy of the doped up, half naked crowds, the cold stares of the Hell's Angels hired to provide security, all captured on film and all juxtaposed with the louche faux-bohemian professionalism of the Stones themselves - it's a fascinating mix. Then, after a long hot day of trying to listen to Jefferson Airplane or whoever else was unlucky enough to be performing to a sea of bad tempered, dehydrated pot-heads, the Stones came on, in the dark, to a stage so small it could have been a room above a pub, and attempted a set without much success. (Here's the spoiler, in case you don't know what happens) Fighting breaks out, ending with a fatal stabbing that sent shockwaves round the world, and effectively marked the end of the sixties. It's an extraordinary moment, and Mick Jagger's face as he watches the footage in an edit suite says it all. The end had been coming for some time, but this just tipped it all over the edge. Unmissable.
The movie starts with a gig in Madison Square Gardens and in truth the band are terrible. Jumping Jack Flash is cringe-inducing with Jagger not even attempting to sing the melody. And it doesn't get better as each song in turn just seems to splutter to an uncomfortable halt. I was disappointed alright.
I was wrong.
At Altamont, the Stones are magnificent. Sympathy for the Devil and Under My Thumb must be seen to be believed. The gig should have been their career performance. If it wasn't for the crowd.
To be honest, i find i can't lay the blame for the chaos entirely at the feet of The Hells Angels. They were handed a responability which was so far beyond their capabilities it's no wonder they cracked under the strain of it. And the man they murdered did have a gun in his hand. That said, a few of them were genuinely psychotic (there's a bit when, i swear, one of them actually seems to be turning into a werewolf!)
So, Gimmie Shelter is worth a watch whether your a fan or not. Just keep an open mind, man!
There is of course much more substance to a film charting the self-styled greatest rock'n'roll band in the world both approaching their peak musically and getting caught up in the inevitable failure of the hippy dream. I've known for forty years what happened at Altamont, but seeing it played out is still a shocking and depressing thing.
What was good to see - apart from the music - is the sheer joy that the Stones (or at least the ones featured; Bill Wyman is notably absent except when on stage) take in the music the are recording. There is lovely bit where Mick Jagger can't contain his pride as they play back Brown Sugar to members of their management team. And one does come away with great sympathy for Jagger who seems genuinely to have being trying to do something positive by giving a free concert and to have been appalled by the way things turned out.
This has it all, with the band members watching footage, trying to figure ot what was going on. Trouble is, in the dark things are a clear as mud. We've all got our own ideas.