Sunday Feature-Week 33:Gimme Shelter (1970)
Title: Gimme Shelter
Tone: Free love and rock & roll (a la Woodstock) turns highly volatile
Director-Albert & David Maysles
Cast- The Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Ike & Tina Turner, and the Hells Angels
What: Albert and David Maysles document the infamous Altamont Free Concert where the Hells Angels (armed with knives and pool cues) were hired as security.
- First off I’d like to point out that I am not a fan of concert films nor am I a big fan of The Rolling Stones, I appreciate both for what they are but they usually don’t hit me on a gut level, yet somehow a concert film about The Rolling Stones has become one of my favorite documentaries of all time. What sets Gimme Shelter apart from all other concert films is that it now stands as a document of the death of the flower power movement and two brilliant documentarians being caught in the right place at the wrong time.
- Albert and David Maysles are two of the most influential documentarians in in the history of the genre and are the forefathers of Cinéma vérité (or Direct Cinema) which is essentially documenting a subject as if you were a fly on the wall. Forgoing narration, interviews, and reenactments, the Maysles’ documentaries have a refreshingly organic and humanistic feel to them. This style of filmmaking sets Gimme Shelter apart from most concert films because the documentarians are far more attune to documenting the volatility in the air than Jagger gyrating onstage.
- The Altamont Free Concert is one of the most infamous concerts in history. A social experiment of sorts, The Rolling Stones tried to recreate the peaceful counterculture phenomenon of Woodstock by creating a free concert of their own. As an alternative to traditional security services (police or a private security company) The Hells Angels were brought on as security, on the grounds that they could sit on the edge of the stage and drink beer, a decision which violently backfired. Fueled by drugs and alcohol as the concert progressed, both The Hells Angels and the audience became extremely volatile. Ultimately the concert was plagued with bad trips, rape, violence, and murder.
One of the greatest traits of the Maysles’ filmmaking style is their ability to capture just the right image to articulate a certain emotion or tone. The clip below is an excellent example of this (and essentially my favorite shot in Gimme Shelter) wherein the Maysles focus in on the distressed concert goers in the crowd, in particular a girl weeping at the front of the stage. Enjoy.