This article is for all you classic rock (The Rolling Stones, Ike & Tina Turner, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Santana, The Flying Burrito Brothers) fans out there.
If you’ve never seen Gimme Shelter, you absolutely need to see it ASAP. I’m serious, seek it out on line or wherever you obtain your movies from and watch it today. The documentary has a timeless quality about it and you get the sense you are watching history unfold before your very eyes.
Gimme Shelter isn’t just an average, run of the mill, classic rock concert movie. The initial idea was to follow the Stones around on their ’69 concert tour to make a concert movie. That’s exactly how the film starts out, it contains some great footage of the Stones at Madison Square Garden and continues on to film the Stones performance at Altamont Speedway. All the while the footage is shown it is also being watched in a studio by the directors and the Stones.
The Altamont concert was doomed from the outset, having the Hell’s Angels as a security force wasn’t the best of ideas and thing go south as soon as the concert footage begins. The footage that was caught really classifies this film as a documentary. I don’t want too much away but actually seeing the footage they caught during the Stones set is chilling and speaks volumes about the people that were involved.
Why the show wasn’t cut short after Marty Balin got knocked out during the Airplane set is the question that I have. After learning that Marty Balin from The Jefferson Airplane was punched out by a Hell’s Angel the Grateful Dead opt out of the concert and leave.
I don’t know if the Stones knew about the violence beforehand but if they did they should have opted out of playing as well. Maybe it was about the promise of some big $ and the pressures involved or maybe the old adage “the show must go on” came into play. Or maybe the Stones thought they could control the crowd after they took the stage.
Whatever the intentions the Stones had, things get really out of a hand as soon as the Stones begin playing. The crowd rushes toward the stage and the bikers violently push back. The footage shows a couple of unconscious people being sifted through the crowd toward the stage as the Stones play. It’s frightening to watch and the music suffers.
Between the first 2 numbers Mick Jagger begs the crowd to stop fighting but Mick’s pleading doesn’t help. It’s at this moment that the Stones should have realized that they should have stopped playing. Again, maybe it was about the $? or maybe they were intimidated by the Hell’s Angels into continuing the show?
Anyway, the Stones continue into their 3rd song and this is when things get really ugly. The incident that occurs during “Under My Thumb” is shocking, mind numbing and brutal to watch. Shown in real time the incident is hardly noticeable. When the footage of the fatal incident is slowed down and analyzed frame by frame, right in front of the Stones, they are left speechless and you will be too.
“Gimme Shelter” is really a documentary of the events leading up to and surrounding the incident. All the while the film footage is being shown it is also being watched by some of the key players involved, namely The Rolling Stones and the film makers. It’s easy to forget this as you watch the film but frequent cuts to the band as they watch make the movie that much more interesting. Mick is shown watching the fatal incident and his glance toward the camera after he gets up to leave the room is priceless. So much so that a still frame of his face is the film’s DVD cover.
The commentary goes on to explain the why and the how and the trials and tribulations the director’s went through to release “Gimme Shelter”. It’s easy to shrug this off as a “classic rock” film but the new, uncensored footage and commentary that was added in 2000 tell an accurate tale.
The commentary explains that the raw, adrenaline fueled emotions that the music was creating had nowhere to go, mix this raw emotion with a violent security force that had already taken out several people during the concert and something had to give. What gives and explodes is a tragic incident that really has to be seen to be believed.
This is the type of incident that everyone was afraid of when the numbers of people that were at Woodstock were first reported to the public. I believe that the promoters, the bands and the crowds at Altamont were lulled into a false sense of security because of the Woodstock love-fest. What happened at Altamont was not love and the violence is so brutal that it is shocking to watch. I think it’s important to note that 30 years later the Woodstock brand would forever be tarnished by violence as well.