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GIMME SHELTER (director/writer: Albert Maysles/David Maysles/Charlotte Zwerin; cinematographer: Albert Maysles/David Maysles; editors: Joanne Burke/Robert Farren/Ellen Giffard/Kent McKinney; music: Rolling Stones; cast: The Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman), Melvin Belli, Jefferson Airplane, Ike and Tina Turner; Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Ronald Schneider; The Criterion Collection; 1970)
“Though upsetting, the film remains an eye-opening eyewitness report on the counterculture experience in its decline.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Maysles Brothers capture the end of the hippie era through this Rolling Stone ‘thank you’ free concert at the Altamont Speedway in San Francisco on December 6, 1969, drawing an estimated crowd of 300,000, during which four persons were killed including one incident where the Hell’s Angels stabbed an unruly 18-year-old black spectator to death who flashed a gun while the band was playing (which, cinema verite style, was caught on camera and looked as if it were a snuff film). Mick Jagger tries to give the devil his due by playing such ditties as “Satisfaction,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Midnight Rambler,” “Street Fighting Man.” and “Under My Thumb” while in a state of denial about all the chaos and violence around him and that their music was contributing to the violence. Though upsetting, the film remains an eye-opening eyewitness report on the counterculture experience in its decline. It mixes stoners, hippies, bare-breasted women, rowdies, blacks, Hell’s Angels (mistakenly hired as stage security for all the beer they can drink), hipsters and rockers together, and we watch in amazement as it all disintegrates and the naive Mick (like a harried school teacher in a Halloween costume) tries in vain to calm the crowd by telling them “Everybody be cool now” and asking “Who’s fighting?” and “What for?” as the The Hell’s Angels continually club those youngsters inching up to the stage with pool cues.

The filmmakers intercut live tour footage and talks with their slick ego-tripping lawyer Melvin Belli and the owner of the Speedway, Mr. Carter, to arrange the impulsive concert after two other sites rejected the request, with material shot two weeks later in the editing room with the stricken Stones viewing the earlier version of the film. The last scene has Jagger asking for a second look in slo-mo of the stabbing at the time he was singing, on what seems automatic pilot, “Under My Thumb,” and with that a chagrined Mick weakly says “Well, that’s it” and the film concludes with a freeze-frame close-up of an ashen faced Mick obviously taken aback how badly things turned out.

It caught the young Rolling Stones at the height of their musical powers and at the last leg of a 20 day cross-country tour that kicked off at New York’s Madison Square Garden. It also caught the excesses of the 1960’s pop culture scene with its hand-held cameras and the reactions of an idolizing captive audience feeling hope and nourishment from “the world’s greatest rock and roll band.” Gimme Shelter serves as a document of that period even if it’s not the same peaceful film as Woodstock, a far more pleasurable viewing experience.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”