Gimme Shelter is a 1970 documentary that follows The Rolling Stones, who are inexplicably still touring today, even though Keith Richards looks like he died some time before they started filming this movie.
There are a number of great reasons to watch this film: for the fly-on-the-wall coverage of the Stones off-stage, particularly the sight of Richards guzzling whisky from the bottle (in snakeskin boots, naturally). Or their live performances, characterised by Mick Jagger’s iconic dancing – where does he get the energy? Oh right. Drugs. But most importantly, the footage of the notorious concert at the Altamont Speedway in 1969, where a man was stabbed to death. Who’d have thought that getting the Hell’s Angels to do your concert security would turn out to be a bad idea?
Directed by The Maysles Brothers (Grey Gardens), the film has a raw energy, cutting between these shocking moments of violence and scenes where the band replay the footage in an editing suite. At one point, we see Mick tell the press that the concert isn’t really about music – a moment of cruel irony in hindsight. Likewise, the film isn’t really about music either – though the music is obviously brilliant, also featuring Jefferson Airplane and Tina Turner (“It’s nice to have a chick occasionally,” drawls Jagger). The Grateful Dead were due to play the free concert but wisely fled – though we still get to see Jerry Garcia wearing a purple poncho.
This concert movie-turned-social document is a time capsule of the hippie era, which seems to capture the moment that the free love movement came to a violent end. Vibrant, visceral and vital, it earns its reputation as one of the greatest rock movies of all time. The only problem is the camera’s (quite understandable) fixation on Jagger, with limited screen time given to the rest of the band. While Sir Mick is completely fascinating, where would he be without his rhythm section? Recording more nonsense with Lenny Kravitz, that’s where.
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