Gimme Shelter (1970)

















"Gimme Shelter" is a curious documentary because it starts out and seems like it's going to be a straight forward concert film, yet it turns into something much more poignant than that. This is arguably one of the most famous rock documentaries and surely one of the most critically acclaimed. When it begins, the film doesn't hold back or shy away from showing whole songs without edits to other scenes. It seems cemented in showing the Rolling Stones's songs in their entirety. That's fine, but it doesn't have a purpose besides being a form of music video.
The Rolling Stones are one of the most famous rock bands in history, period. I'm not a huge fan of their work but I can say that they influenced generations and are still touring...that's impressive. By definition they have a right to be documented just because of the music they made. But this film is not just about the Stones, but rather the fading impact of Woodstock, the changes in the rock audience, and the insanity of people.
"Gimme Shelter" opens with the Stones playing at Madison Square Garden, they are having fun and the crowd is too...generally a really good time. But then we cut to an editing room where the Rolling Stones's members are sitting in front of a television screen watching the precursors, the actual event, and the aftermath—what is this event? The free concert they hosted in San Francisco know now as "Altamont".
There's one scene in "Gimme Shelter" where the Stones are traveling via helicopter over to the venue and they are looking down at the thousands upon thousands of cars lining the sides of the road. The vehicles seem to stretch on to infinity and if that doesn't boost your ego, I don't know what will. But as soon as they step out of the helicopter and start making their way through the huge crowd (300,000 people is the number that's thrown around in the movie) they start to be harassed and Mick Jagger is even hit at one point. Then they make it to their trailer and they don't witness the riots that are beginning outside.
The crowd has been there awhile, they want to have the best seats and they are prepping as if Altamont is going to be the next Woodstock—everyone's saying, praying, and thinking that. There are drugs and booze and the cultures clash, but the music is supposed to be one of the uniting forces of the people...this audience may not see it that well.
While most of the movie is leading up to the concert—the planning, preparing, and deal making—the concert itself is the final note of the film and what gives it its power.
By simply letting the camera observe the people, the film's three directors (Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin) capture the event and show the viewer a different side of rock 'n roll.
I have to say that I admired the camera operators for their work because some of the things that they must have had to endure were sure to be frightening.
As the night rolls on and the Stones are getting ready to play a group of Hell's Angels bikers take over the stage as impromptu bodyguards. They pull people who keep throwing themselves on the stage over to the side, and deal with them there. It's from here that things will take a dark turn.
The hindsight that "Gimme Shelter" shows up is haunting. It was far more impactful than I was expecting.





Score: 3 out of 4 stars

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