Thursday, April 9, 2015

519. Gimme Shelter (1970)

Running Time: 91 minutes
Directed By: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin
Main Cast: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman
Click here to view the trailer


Feeling a little more chipper last night about movies and writing about them, I was prompted to press play on the DVR and finally watch the Rolling Stones' documentary that I nabbed off of TCM last month - Gimme Shelter; the 519th entry in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book (going chronologically) and the only Maysles brothers' offering.

THE BOOK notes that Gimme Shelter is probably the best rock documentary and concert film ever made and while that's really not saying much, I guess I'd have to agree - if only because it's one of only like two or three concert films I've ever seen. The film covers The Rolling Stones 1969 U.S. Tour, which culminated with a free concert in San Francisco at the Altamont Speedway for a record number of 300,000 drugged up, flower children. The film follows the Stones in the few days leading up to the Altamont concert, which for the unaware turned out to be a disaster with four people losing their lives via a group of rough and rowdy Hell's Angels unleashing fury on an already raucous crowd. The Altamont concert unfolds just like Woodstock, with hundreds of thousands showing up in basically the middle of nowhere to drop acid, make love and listen to good music. Prior to the event, some were even billing it the Woodstock of the west, with even one of the organizers of Woodstock, Michael Lang, showing up at the last minute to help with some last minute relocating. On film, we see some of the highlights of The Stones' concerts leading up to Altamont, notably a few numbers from their Madison Square Garden show that year, as well as performances from Ike & Tina Turner (also from MSG) and performances at Altamont from Jefferson Airplane and The Flying Burrito Brothers. Keep your eyes peeled for a quick glimpse of Jerry Garcia, who's band The Grateful Dead refused to play at Altamont due to the unease of the crowd.

So yeah, I definitely had my phone in hand as I watched this, navigating my browser to Wikipedia and plugging in entries like "Altamont Free Concert", "Gimme Shelter" and "The Rolling Stones". This whole era is such a fascinating time for me and Gimme Shelter displays pretty much the end of the "peace, love and rock 'n' roll" movement of the sixties. Honestly, if you really want to get deep, you could say that Altamont was the beginning of violence in America. Okay, maybe that's a ridiculous statement, but hear me out. When you consider some of the most violent nations in the world, the United States has to top the list, right? I mean, you read nonsense in the papers everyday, hearing stories about shootings, murders, killings, stabbings, etc. Throughout the sixties it was the prime motive of the younger generation to promote peace & love, yet as the 70s hit, the peace and love died out and a more violent era came to fruition, something that is still rearing it's ugly head. Was America a violent place prior to the sixties? Do these things come in stages? Watching Gimme Shelter and the violence that was taking place on December 6, 1969 is just unbelievable, when you consider Woodstock was just a few months prior and was the height and probably final swan song of an era that promoted making love and music, as opposed to violence and war. Were the Rolling Stones or even the Hell's Angels to blame for bringing this era of tie dye shirts to an end? I don't think so. I think the population just had enough of playing nice and maybe you can even blame it on the state of things - the Vietnam war, for example.

Anyone who recalls Don McLean's song American Pie, may remember some of the lyrics. One of the most notable things McLean sings about is "the day the music died" and some believe that he's singing about the date of the Altamont free concert. Some other lyrics include: "I saw Satan laughing with delight" which some believe is a reference to Mick Jagger, who wore red & black that night and "oh and there we were all in one place, a generation lost in space, with no time left to start again"...well that one kind of speaks for itself, doesn't it? There are a few sites on the internet that decipher every single lyric in the song and if they're accurate, it's really a deep song, FILLED with symbolism and telling a story which culminates with the Stones and the events depicted in Gimme Shelter. The film is recommended by me, if nothing else, because it's a time capsule to when an almost exact moment when the world, specifically America, changed. You can almost freeze frame on the exact moment that love went out the window and an era of violence reared it's ugly head, which Maysles does, almost knowing that he's capturing something significant and important in the history of our country and not just shooting a concert film.

RATING: 7/10  A good one, but may or may not be one that I'd include on my own list of personal favorites. I'd recommend watching this in conjunction with Woodstock and probably spinning McLean's American Pie in between.


April 9, 2015  9:50am

1 comment:

  1. I started to reply to this several days go, but really couldn't think of anything inteligent to add..
    Still carn't. Sorry.


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