DVD of the week: The Rolling Stones in 'Gimme Shelter'

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At last, the Maysles seminal account of the Stones' ill-fated 1969 Altamont gig is released on DVD

The second rockumentary from sibling film makers David and Albert Maysles is much more than just the record of a gig by what was then (in 1969) one of the biggest bands on the planet. In the 40 years since, it’s assumed iconic status as a socio-historical document, since it captures live the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Meredith Hunter by a Hell’s Angel during a free Rolling Stones gig at Altamont speedway, and thus signals the brutal end of the ’60s dream.

The Maysles were unaware of what they’d recorded until – along with co-director/editor Charlotte Zwerin – they watched their footage in the cutting room. What they saw shocked and appalled not only them, but also the ostensible subjects of ‘Gimme Shelter’. It’s this murderous revelation – and the Stones’ reaction to seeing it played in slo-mo in the editing suite – that packs the film’s extraordinary emotional punch. Opening with scenes of the Stones horsing around on a highway in capes and top hats during a photoshoot, the movie follows them – and moves the viewer on – to New York, LA and Muscle Shoals, Alabama, drawing inexorably closer to the dark cloud that is Altamont.

Realisation after the brutal fact floods the film’s every compelling frame, the camera’s seemingly random and impartial gaze as it roams around the vast, chaotic crowd somehow making the pivotal event (in fact, difficult to make out on first viewing) all the more horrifying.

Shot just five years after the Maysles’ ‘What’s Happening! The Beatles in America’, ‘Gimme Shelter’ could hardly be more different. Its tone is fearful and premonitory, rather than celebratory and euphoric, and it stands as extraordinary proof that throwing an open party for 300, 000 people – most of them blasted out of their minds – and hiring Hell’s Angels on security detail was not the brightest idea anyone had.

Author: Sharon O' Connell



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