201 of 212 people found the following review helpful
Many people identify this as the greatest rock documentary ever made. I'm not sure it quite deserves that label (my vote would go for the older T.A.M.I. film, which has not yet been made available on DVD), but it is certainly the most interesting and frightening. Clearly it started off as a documentary of the Stones 1969 tour of the United States (which I believe was their first U.S. tour following the death of Brian Jones and his being replaced by Mick Taylor), but everything changed once Altamount happened. The death of Meredith Hunter at the hands of a member of the Hell's Angels, who had been employed to maintain security at the free concert the Stones gave in San Francisco, takes over the film, changing it from a documentary about the Stones on tour to a murder that took place at a Stones concert.
Until about half way through the documentary, the film is still primarily a documentary about the Stones. But once the cameras get to Altamount, the crew (which included as a cameraman young filmmaker George Lucas, though none of Lucas's film was included in the film due to a camera jam) catches the increasingly nasty atmosphere at the concert, with fans ascending the stage, fighting with the Hell's Angels, fighting with each other. The Grateful Dead, scheduled to play, declined to do so when they heard that Marty Balin of the Jefferson Airplane had been beaten up onstage by the Angel's (we see a brief shot of Jerry Garcia reacting incredulously to the news of the violence). By the end of the film, the viewer is left with a completely sickened feeling of the stupidity of everything he or she has just seen.
The violence completely obscures the fact that the Stones were at the time precisely what the announcer at the beginning of the film announces: the world's greatest rock and roll band. The performances, especially the earlier ones in the film, but also in the raw tape of songs like "Brown Sugar," are stunningly good, and it is especially apparent the new great guitar edge that Mick Taylor has brought to the band (Jones brought an across the board brilliance, and could add everything from slide guitar to upright piano to sitar to the mix, but was probably not quite Taylor's equal as a guitarist, and Taylor also brought a new reliability that contrasted with Jones's increasingly erratic behavior in his last year with the band). On the other hand, in the film the band largely disappears at time. Apart from Mick Jagger, the Stones are not always a palpable presence in their own film.
Historicism could be defined with focusing on the meaning of history rather than the objective telling of the events of history, or recounting the events for the sake of getting to their supposed underlying meaning. Sometimes it even involves projecting onto events meaning they would not otherwise have. Altamount is easily one of the most historicized moments in the history of both the sixties and rock and roll. Altamount is rarely treated as an isolated tragedy, but is more frequently regarded as a turning point in history, as if it were when the sixties came crashing to an end (something that I feel can more rightfully be ascribed to Kent State). I don't personally understand this need to project some story of apocalyptic closure to the decade. I'll merely state that I don't think that we should see anything more in Altamount than a tragedy that ought otherwise to have been prevented. It should it not be baptized as, nor was it, a defining moment in history.
One frustration I had with the film is that far too often the camera isn't focused on what was happening. There is a tendency for the film to merely drift at times. For instance, while the Flying Burrito Brothers, there are only a couple of incredibly brief shots of Gram Parsons's back. We can hear him singing the song, but we never see him actually singing it. Earlier, when performing the great Robert Johnson song "Love in Vain" (featuring some of the most powerfully poetic images ever written by an illiterate individual), the camera completely abandons a real-time observation of the performance, and lapses into a near fantasy-like viewing of Mick Jagger swirling about the stage in slow motion.
Anyone who loves this film, or merely enjoys it, should definitely read the Stanley Booth book THE TRUE ADVENTURES OF THE ROLLING STONES, which covers the precise same events as the film, but in much greater detail and with more insight both into the events surrounding Altamount and into the members of the band. It is one of the great classics of rock journalism.
86 of 89 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2000
"Gimme Shelter" is a lot of things. It's one of the greatest rock and roll films ever made. It's one of the greatest documentaries ever made. It's one of the best glimpses of a moment in time ever recorded, and it's a lasting crystallization of the point in time when the ideals and dreams of the 60's died and the hedonism and self-preservation of the 70's kicked in.
The Maysles Brothers and Charlotte Zwerin are famous for making documentaries about bible salesmen, old women in decaying mansions, and artists creating art. "Gimme Shelter" is doubly a shock because these somber and almost grim documentarians have been able to put across a rock and roll film that gives you a feeling of the power of music and the freshness of the spirit that the Stones brought to the table. In these moments, captured in 1969, you can see the point where the Stones make the step from rock stars to phenomena, and you see where the wall between artist and audience spawns from.
"Gimme Shelter" follows the Stones from touring and recording to their free concert at Altamont Speedway. The film breaks with documentary tradition and gives us a skewed timeline, interspersing concert footage and recording sessions with newscasts about the aftermath of Altamont, the Stones in the screening room watching footage of Altamont, and scenes of negotiating the final details before Altamont goes down. The Altamont concert itself is a marvel to behold, to witness what was captured by the gang of camera operators wandering through the crowd (including George Lucas). From drug dealers to painted hippies, Hells Angels to fathers and sons, from whimsy to terror. "Gimme Shelter" follows the show from it's chaotic first moments of parking wherever, ingesting whatever and acting however, to scenes of fast and random violence springing up around the stage as well as on stage. All of which culminates in the murder of a man right in front of the stage. All captured on beautiful, grainy 16mm with no tricks and no cheats.
The DVD is packed with great supplementary materials. A commentary from David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, deleted scenes (including a great backstage scene of Ike, Tina and Mick hanging out), the full excerpts of the KSAN radio broadcast which is used occasionally in the film, trailers, photos and a small feature on the restoration of the print.
If you've seen "Gimme Shelter" before, you've noticed that the sound and image lack a lot. Criterion has completely restored the visuals to crystal clarity and given the audio tracks a much-needed shot in the arm. This film has never looked so good and never sounded so good.
The Stones have been the focus of several movies and a gang of media coverage, attempting to look beyond the gamefaces and see the real Stones. Very few have succeeded. "Gimme Shelter" is filled with moments where the Stones forget to pose, forget to put up a pretense and respond with real shock, real anger and real regret. This is the anti-"Woodstock." Besides all that, you'll rarely see the Stones in such top form and sounding and looking so good. If the shots of the band in action don't get you, then the shots of the crowd alone are worth the price of admission.
Rock films are seemingly a dime a dozen, and no one tends to care enough to make them real FILMS. "Gimme Shelter" is the antidote to the callous rock film tossaway, a film with as much brains as attitude, a film with a message as well as a soundtrack, and most of all, a film so much greater and so much deeper than the surface could ever lead you to believe.
84 of 90 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
This movie has been almost universally acclaimed as the best Rock and Roll documentary ever, but that is damning with faint praise. This is a great movie, period.
It documents the Rolling Stones during their landmark '69 tour, and in particular, the documentary maker's dream (and everyone else's nightmare) Altamont concert. At the time, the Stones truly were "the greatest Rock and Roll band in the world", perhaps the greatest of all time. Jagger's performance and charisma are at their peak, no trace of the almost self-parody he would later embrace. Keith Richards' playing is rough, raunchy and powerful, while the unheralded Mick Taylor's exquisite blues guitar leads contrast by their beauty.
The performances alone (including Tina Turner doing "I've Been Loving You Too Long") would be enough to make this a must have film, but Altamont is what makes it a truly great film. When we get to the Altamont concert, it gradually becomes more and more terrifying, reminiscent of the slow build of "The Shining". At first, Jagger thinks he can control the situation with peace and love rhetoric, "Brothers and sisters. If we are all one then let's show it!" At the end, the once confident rock star is reduced to a scared little boy pleading, "I pray that it's alright. I pray that it's alright," right before a man is stabbed to death a few feet away from him.
Highlights (besides the Stones and Tina Turner performances): Jagger watching a tape of himself (obviously stoned) giving glib and charming answers to reporters, then turning away from the tape, and almost blushing, saying, "Rubbish." Mick and Keith grooving to a different version of Brown Sugar that has a country lead guitar part, 2 years before the song was released. During the Altamont concert, a Hell's Angel on the stage staring at Jagger for a long time with a look of intense disgust like, "Look at this little faggot!" The disillusioned masses leaving the next morning while the rawest, nastiest version of "Gimme Shelter" you've ever heard plays on the soundtrack.
When you watch the Altamont part of this movie, your shoulders and body will scrunch up as though you were at a truly scary horror movie. It is that visceral. It is emotionally draining, yet compelling, and the music is fantastic. I have it on VHS and I will get the DVD as soon as it comes out. You should own this movie.
40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2006
The analysis surrounding this greatest by far of all rock films is loopy. Gimme Shelter, (made pre-MTV), was shot to be a documentary. The Maysles brothers had unprecedented access and logged stellar concert footage which they combined with insider "rockers-on-the-road" perspective to create an intimate, accurate portrait. (The Muscle Shoals footage is priceless, especially Keith Richards.) Even the business side, epitomized by shots of the repulsive Melvin Belli, is effectively revealed. Refraining from narration was a master stroke, audience members observe and draw their own conclusions.
I saw the Stones on their second trip to the States - their ability to generate mayhem-inducing frenzy was obvious even then. Gimme Shelter shows them at the top of their game, and the play list is elite. The problem with Gimme Shelter is that the Maysles brothers didn't know what would happen in Altamont, but they cut the picture together as if they did. Suddenly the dark undercurrents the Stones dined out on for decades took on a new, and thoroughly unintended, meaning. That's manipulative and cheap.
Back in the day, the Beatles were the nice boys your parents liked, and the Stones were the bad boys they didn't. At Altamont, we see the bad boy image collide with real evil, and everyone gets confused. What's so pathetic is how powerless and impotent Jagger looks on stage as he tries to confront the real devil - who has no sympathy for anyone. For those moments he's just a mincing entertainer.
As to the twaddle about Altamont slamming the door on '60s idealism, please, it was already collapsing under the weight of its own hypocrisy. In cabbage patches across America, pods were opening at midnight and the first yuppies were being hatched, dreaming of Land Rovers and the invasions necessary to fuel them. You've got shelter, Mick's got shelter, just crank up the volume and enjoy the best live rock footage available.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on February 10, 2007
Originally, The Masyles Brothers were only at Altamont to make a documentary about a "West Coast Woodstock" and nothing more. Little did they know that they were going to be at the center of what the media later dubbed "the death of the hippie movements". This film is excellent, one of the greatest documentaries ever. It really goes into detail on how the whole Altamont concert itself was a royal screw up. It was done with such haste and incompetence it's a miracle that they managed to even get a concert off the ground. Altamont was a horrible location, terrible parking (there's an amazing helicopter shot where you see cars stretched for miles), and there was just an overall sense of extreme chaos. Even when I was watching this, it was hard to figure out exactly where the stage was in terms of the stadium itself. The promoters and the Stones themselves really wanted to one-up Woodstock. It really had nothing to do with a West Coast "love in". In the immortal words of Frank Zappa, they "we're only in it for the money". Zappa, along with others, were spot on about how hippiedom was really a joke, and it was also shockingly naive, as this film illustrates. It seems that the Stones were thinking that everything was going to work out somehow, and there was going to be a wonderful, gentle love in. Naiveite like that can get you killed. The Hell's Angels were given an insurmountable task here in trying to keep security at this chaotic mess. It was foolhardy to entrust a notorious motorcycle gang with security for nearly 400,000 people. Considering the Angels were drunk to oblivion at the time, prone to violence and insanity, the fans were lucky that only one person was murdered. This film really captures the chaos and murder of this festival. It shows that Meredith Hunter, the man who was killed by the Angels, did indeed have a gun, and he seemed intent on doing something or killing someone that night. We'll never know if he really wanted to kill Mick Jagger (some speculate that's what he was there for, or it could be the Angels just wanted to pick a fight with him). The transfer of the film here is first rate. It's a vast improvement over muddy VHS copies. A brilliant documentary...
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2001
As a fan of the early Stones, I first saw this in 1990 on video a few times, but it wasn't until I bought this Criterion edition last year and watched it many times that I realised how powerful and well put together this film really is.
While the film ostensibly deals with the Stone's 1969 American tour, for me it really represents a descent into some kind of hell, that is not only enivitable, but fascinating to watch at the same time. You know things are going wind up badly virtually from the beginning of the film as Jagger and Watts are replayed radio bites detailing the aftermath of the Altamont concert (deaths, births, OD's & scuffles) as the camera records their reactions. This knowledge casts a deathly air over all the footage to follow, especially the concert preparations themselves, as the chaos and egocentric personalities concerned with them are all the more transparent and the results of which all the more enivitable.
The Stones (in my opinion) are at their peak here, sounding really cohesive as a group (even though Mick Taylor was new) and really rocking as a result. Other musicians such as Ike and Tina Turner (who apparently Mick was jealous of because her stage costume looked better under lights than his), Jefferson Airplane and The Flying Burrito Brothers also make short appearances, and provide some historical background, however for me the music takes a back seat to what is going on around it.
As the Stones play Madison Square Gardens and record in the studio (including a nice version of "Brown Horses"), preparations are underway for the Stones to do a free concert somewhere in San Fransisco as a nice gesture (and partly in response to negative feedback about high concert prices) for the people of San Fran. The amount of problems, technicalities, and greedy sensationalists you see in these scenes helps set the stage (literally) for what is to come when the big day arrives.
The first view of Altamont you get is an awesome helicopter view of thousands upon thousands of cars and people walking towards the site itself. The helicopter lands, Mick gets punched in the face and it's all downhill from there. All the big and little details that helped turn Altamont into the end of an era are laid to bare, and judging by what is shown it is little wonder it did turn out as bad as it did...although it is hard to say how it could have been worse.
As I said earlier, I liken it to a descent into hell, and by the time The Stones are on stage there is so much chaos and confusion it's a nightmare. It's the little details that stick with me : the guy in the audience trying to tell Jagger how bad things are and Mick misinterpreting him and dancing harder, the crowd surging everytime an Angel jumps in to beat someone up, the fat naked woman climbing over everybody with one of the scariest pairs of eyes I've ever seen, an alsatian dog calmly crossing the stage, one of the Angels giving Mick a prolonged condescending/nasty stare and my favourite where a psycho-Joe Cocker lookalike stands about a metre away from Mick while grimacing and grinding his teeth to the world's worst trip before being noticed by a Hell's Angel and pulled off the stage. These details are only a small snippet of the madness within the second half on the film and certainly by the end I was stunned and in awe of not only the events themselves, but the competency of the Maysles Brothers in recording and displaying them.
It is also of little wonder that the next Stones tour (1972) of the United States was far better organised, with better security, bigger and taller stages and seemingly slicker and more souless. Although Robert Frank's "----sucker Blues" shows quite a bit of interesting behind the scenes activity (which I won't go into here), certainly there is very little on stage and the both the music and the film itself cannot hold a candle to this combined effort of music, cinema and history.
The DVD of "Gimme Shelter" comes with a very good array of extras. Two large galleries worth of photos taken at Altamont, A rather large booklet, The whole of the radio broadcast that is used as snippets within the film (Sam Cutler and Sonny Barger are absolute highlights!!), excerpts from another radio broadcast the Stones did during the tour and an informative commentry from one of the Maysles brothers & Charlottle Zerwin.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
This is not merely one great rock documentary -- it is one of the finest pieces of documentary filmmaking I have ever seen. The directors and cinematographer have truly captured the wildness, the drugs, the sense of abandon, hope, mystery, fear, violence, and joy -- all of it wrapped in a remarkable rock music event marred by the Hells Angels' tragic violence.
The sense of foreboding as the filmmakers capture the haphazard planning for this free Altamont concert is palpable -- I love the way the Stones' lawyer, Melvin Belli (wearing a very wide tie), attempts to negotiate a last minute concert site. There are so many impossible to forget images -- the Stones' listening to a play back of "Wild Horses" at Muscle Shoals studio; the stoned-out kids moving from amazement to horror as the violence unfolds; the boys listening to Sonny Barger call in to a radio station and justify the violence because the fans were "messing with our bikes."
There is great onstage concert footage too -- the Flying Burrito Brothers kick it off in fine fashion, then Tina Turner turns in a sexy performance, practically deep-throating the microphone, but by the time Jefferson Airplane gets on stage you just know something is about to go very, very wrong.
As the violence unfolds, to the onstage antics of "Sympathy for the Devil," things get very weird. Mick, onstage, calling for cool. Fans crying, mouthing to Mick "why?" silently, Keith and the boys still riffing as the beatings mount -- all captured brilliantly by the filmmakers.
The final piece -- Mick and the boys watching the concert footage in the studio -- is equally priceless and equally revealing.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
The Rolling Stones 1969 tour of America brought about significant change to the culture. After Woodstock, the counterculture in America was at its all-time peak. The festival helped show a nation that the hippie ideal could work as hundreds of thousands got together for three days and co-existed in a state of love, peace and happiness. The Stones free concert at Altamont Speedway in California was supposed to be the Woodstock for the West Coast. The scene that unfolded at the concert helped bring all those feelings to a crashing halt. Marred by violence and death, the show shattered the ideal and in many ways marked the end of the 60's and an era and brought about the me generation of the 70's. Gimme Shelter is a documentary of the tour and specifically the Altamont concert. We go behind the scenes and see in chilling detail the events that unfold leading up to the concert. This release is exceptional as we get never before released footage and the 40 plus page booklet would be worth buying by itself.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
This all happened years before I was born so it's not surprising it took me so long to check out the documentary. After all this time, I'm glad that I finally did. And I'm glad that someone filmed it all so that I could.
Gimme Shelter is an amazing documentary. It starts out a bit slow, with the Stones watching footage of their concerts and listening to tapes of people calling into radio stations to talk about the event. Seeing their reactions is pretty moving, and just to watch Mick Jagger do anything is pretty interesting in itself.
As the footage of the concert itself unfolds, it starts out looking like one of the best events ever. A free concert with huge stars and all the drugs you can handle... but then things take a turn for the worse. And the amazing thing is that it is all on camera. The Hell's Angels attacking the crowd, and the crowd attacking the Hell's Angels... and Mick Jagger pleading with everyone to just "be cool".
What a stunning documentary. Check it out if you're interested in rock, history, or just plain good documentaries.
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
The concert is hard to focus on as the spotlight turns to the murder of one of the concert goers, after that it's hard to appreciate the Rolling Stones performance.