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Gimme Shelter Movie Review

concert maysles mick stones

I was invited to the Altamont concert on Saturday, December 6, 1969, but the prospect of a free Rolling Stones concert was pretty terrifying for anyone with even a mild strain of agoraphobia so I declined. When I saw the Maysles Brothers magnificent film of the concert nearly 30 years later, I was stunned that they'd somehow managed to include one of the people who invited me: I'll never be able to get the image of that kid (staggering through the crowd while stoned to the gills) out of my head. Whatever happened to that kid and all the other kids that dozens of camera people—including George Lucas, Stephen Lighthill, and the late Peter (Word Is Out) Adair—recorded for all time? It was like watching some of the very first flickering images of the 1890s: Who were these people? What were they thinking about? Where were they going? Were they happy? Were their lives long or short? We know the fate of at least four of the audience members: three died in accidents and one, Meredith Hunter, was stabbed to death while the cameras were rolling. We know that Mick Jagger, Keith Richard, and Charlie Watts are still touring with the Stones, and that Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor are not. We know that Ike and Tina Turner broke up and that Tina is still a major force in the musical industry. We know that Jerry Garcia died at 53 in 1995 and the Grateful Dead disbanded shortly thereafter, although the members continue to play together and with other groups. The Jefferson Airplane and Crosby, Stills, and Nash are covered exhaustively on Video Hits One Profiles. Producer Bill Graham died at 60 in a helicopter crash after a concert on a dark and stormy night in 1991 and Melvin Belli, the Stones temporary lawyer, outlived him by five years, dying at 88 in 1996. But what the Maysles Brothers did in the year it took to edit and assemble Gimme Shelter was show a day in history that marked the end of one way of looking at the rock world and the beginning of another, much darker perspective. All through the ‘60s, rock ‘n’ roll music had been good clean fun, because good clean fun made money. Woodstock, which took forever to organize, looks happy and peaceful, because no one's going to make a movie about someone who's trapped in a car due to traffic gridlock and thus never makes it to the concert. The Altamont concert took less than a day to organize and it's obvious. A pharmaceuticals vendor peddles “Hashish, LSD, Psilocybin” as if they were popcorn, hot dogs, and cotton candy. Long before the concert started, people were experiencing psychotic reactions to the drugs and it is painful to watch. Tina Turner is great as always, an oasis before the Hells Angels, drunk on all the free beer they could stand, began to clash not only with kids on impure drug cocktails, but with the musicians themselves. Marty Balin of the Jefferson Airplane was knocked out by a Hell's Angel and an unrepentant Angel simply roared back when band mate Paul Kantner publicly complained. Grace Slick momentarily succeeded in neutralizing the situation, but the Angels were enraged when anyone went near their motorcycles or challenged their authority. They acted as if treating the Angels with respect, NOT listening to the music, was the whole point of the concert. When Mick Jagger (with a cultivated Cockney accent) is onstage, he talks to the crowd like a substitute teacher and is just as ineffective. The final moments of the concert are so violent, hellish, and out of control, it's no wonder that Jagger, who is filmed muttering, “Horrible…” while watching the concert footage later, looks like a threatened animal caught in the headlights of a car. The ghosts of Altamont haunted concert organizers for years as they planned every detail of every show WAY in advance. And of course the law took a firmer position on the safety measures established for guiding and controlling crowds. Would the December 1969 concert have been as ill-fated if it had been held in Golden Gate Park, the Stones’ first choice of venue? Well, it wasn't held in Golden Gate Park because of fears about substance abuse and, as the Maysles Brothers make crystal clear in Gimme Shelter, substance abuse (and lousy planning) led straight to the Altamont disaster. But time passes and, 25 years later, a Rolling Stones concert was no more than a backdrop for a Beverly Hills 90210 episode about Donna Martin, Ray Pruitt, Kelly Taylor, Steve Sanders, Claire Arnold, David Silver, Andrea Zuckerman, and Brandon Walsh.

1970 91m/C Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor, Marty Balin, Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, The Jefferson Airplane, Jerry Garcia, The Grateful Dead, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Tina Turner, Ike Turner, Melvin Belli, Bill Graham; D: David Maysles, Al Maysles, Charlotte Zwerlin; C: Haskell Wexler; M: Rolling Stones. VHS, LV

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