Movie Review: Gimme Shelter


I have had the Gimme Shelter Netflix DVD for quite some time; since mid-March according to my queue page. That's not the longest delay by a long shot; I had Fanny and Alexander so long, I ended up losing it and had to buy it (I did find it again and am still looking forward to watching it). Gimme Shelter is another one of those movies whose presence on my Netflix queue is a mystery. Not sure why I added a Rolling Stones concert film to my queue, as I'm a fan of neither the Stones nor concert films. So I delayed for two months, but I thought I would put it on while I worked yesterday and just listen to the music.

Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong! Once the show started, I simply couldn't take my eyes off it. Much like watching an impending train wreck, the chaos and incompetence documented by the Maysles brothers was too fascinating to tear away from. I had to pause it and wait until after the rugrats had gone to bed to finish watching.  And then I listened to the commentary track, just to see what the heck was going on.

If you don't know, Gimme Shelter documents the Rolling Stones American Tour 1969, culminating in the fiasco that was the free concert at Altamont Speedway, where one man was murdered by the Hell's Angels and three others died in various accidents. It must have been very scary, up on stage, as 300,000 drug-addled young people pushed in on it. It was so out of control that even Marty Balin, singer for Jefferson Airplane, was knocked unconscious by the Angels. You could feel how crazy it was, and it's impressive the cameramen stuck around.

The chronology of the documentary was a little odd. As is mentioned in the commentary, they wanted to do a little more than just a straight chronology, so they filmed the Stones watching the rough cut of it, and interspersed the movie with shots of their reactions.  No problem there. But I was confused when they cut back to the opening Madison Square Garden concert, just before showing the Altamont one, but after they showed other concert shots, as well as their visit to the Muscle Shoals recording studio. Now, admittedly, the Tina Turner performance shown was worth it, but I'm not sure why they had to screw up the chronology by showing it there.

The commentary track was good, but not incredibly enlightening. I wanted to hear more of how things happened, and why and who.  Albert Maysles provided the bulk of the commentary (his brother David died in 1987), as well as Charlotte Zwerin (who did the bulk of the editing) and Stanley Goldstein.  There were a few nuggets, but not as many as I had hoped. I'd love to see a commentary by a knowledgeable scholar, like they do on some of the older Criterion titles. But a movie that I'm glad I finally watched, and that I shouldn't have put off for so long. It's so much more than just a concert film!


[this is good] Awesome!I'm glad you liked it! It's easily one of my favorite docs of all time. I was talking to a co worker and she was actually there at Altamont. I think she said she was there to see the Grateful Dead or something and she started to get really worried because she was hearing all these stories about the Hell's Angels beating the shit out of ;people.Eventually she saw a couple of people get the knocked around and high-tailed it out of there.Oddly, when my coworker was telling me this story she seemed so matter-of-fact about it. Like "...that's just the way things were back then..."BUT!I digress, Glad you liked the movie! Hope they all turn out as enjoyable for you!

Albert Maysles mentioned that after the concert,  the Hell's Angels went on to create this huge bonfire and continued to party on.  Other concert goers naturally gravitated to it, thinking it was another party, but instead the violence against non-Angels continued well into the night. Sounds ugly and a good thing your co-worker got out of there.

[this is good] I think the editing of the film is meant to show how confusing everything was.

If that's true, then they really succeeded! I didn't mind the overall structure, I just didn't understand why they had to go backwards in time at seemingly random intervals to show older concert footage. And the commentary didn't address it.

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on May 19, 2007 6:04 AM.

Movie Review (repost) : The Draughtman's Contract was the previous entry in this blog.

Movie Review: The Lion King is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.