Gimme Shelter (1970)

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Gimme Shelter (1970)
Mister Gallagher & Mister Shean sheet music.jpg
Genre: Documentary
Concert film
Photography: Color
Running Time: 91 minutes
Country: United States
Release Date: December 6, 1970
Directed by: Albert and David Maysles
Charlotte Zwerin
Distributed by: Maysles Films
Cinema V (UK)
20th Century Fox (USA)
Starring: The Rolling Stones

Gimme Shelter is a 1970 documentary film directed by the Maysles brothers and Charlotte Zwerin documenting the last weeks of the Rolling Stones' 1969 American tour which culminated in the ill-fated Altamont Free Festival. The film is named after "Gimme Shelter", the opening track from the group's 1969 album Let It Bleed. The film was filmed over the course of ten days.


The film shows some of the Madison Square Garden concert later featured on the 1969 live album, Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert, as well as the photography session for the cover featuring Charlie Watts and a donkey. Guitarist Johnny Thunders can be seen in the audience. It also shows the Stones at work in Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama recording two then-upcoming songs, "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses", and footage of musical duo Ike & Tina Turner opening for the Stones at their Madison Square Garden concert singing "I've Been Loving You Too Long", to Mick Jagger's comment, "It's nice to have a chick occasionally".

The Maysles brothers filmed the first concert of the tour at Madison Square Garden in New York City. After the concert, the Maysles brothers asked the Rolling Stones if they could film them on tour, and the group agreed.

Much of the film chronicles the behind-the-scenes dealmaking that took place to make the free Altamont concert happen, including much footage of attorney Melvin Belli negotiating by telephone with the management of the Altamont Speedway. The movie also includes a playback of Hells Angels leader Ralph "Sonny" Barger's famous call-in to radio station KSAN's "day after" program about the concert, wherein he recalls, "They told me if I could sit on the edge of the stage so nobody could climb over me, I could drink beer until the show was over."

Altamont Free Festival

The action then turns to the Altamont Free Festival itself at the Altamont Speedway, the security for which was provided by the Hells Angels (armed with pool cues). As the day progresses, with drug-taking and drinking by the Angels and members of the audience, the mood turns ugly. Fights break out during performances by the Flying Burrito Brothers and Jefferson Airplane; Grace Slick pleads with the crowd to calm down. When Mick Jagger arrives to the grounds via helicopter, he is punched in the face by a fan while making his way to his trailer.

At one point Jefferson Airplane lead male singer Marty Balin is knocked out by a Hells Angel; Paul Kantner attempts to confront "the people who hit my lead singer" in response, announcing: "Hey, man, I'd like to mention that the Hells Angels just smashed Marty Balin in the face, and knocked him out for a bit. I'd like to thank you for that." To which Hells Angel Bill "Sweet William" Fritsch sitting on stage grabs a microphone, and replies: "You're talking to my people. Let me tell you what's happening. You, man, you are what's happening!" Slick herself warns the Angels after they continue hitting people: "You don't hassle with anybody in particular. You gotta keep your bodies off each other unless you intend love. People get weird, and you need people like the Angels to keep people in line. But the Angels also-- You know, you don't bust people in the head for nothing. So both sides are fucking up temporarily; let's not keep fucking up!" The Grateful Dead members Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh arrive, but the Dead opt not to play after learning of the incident with Balin from Santana drummer Michael Shrieve. (Santana and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young also performed at the concert but are not shown in the movie.)

The Stones are shown appearing onstage that evening and opening with "Jumpin' Jack Flash", and are also shown performing "Sympathy for the Devil", as the tension continues to build. During the next song, "Under My Thumb", a member of the audience, 18-year-old Meredith Hunter, attempted, with other crowd members, to force his way onto the stage, and as a result was attacked by the Hells Angels guarding the band. Hunter then drew a revolver before being charged by Hells Angel Alan Passaro and stabbed six times, resulting in his death. Hunter's stabbing was captured on film by at least one of the many camera operators filming the documentary, and appeared in the final cut of the film. According to Albert Maysles, the stabbing was filmed by either Baird Bryant or Eric Saarinen. The film sequence clearly shows the dark silhouette of a handgun in Hunter's hand against the white knit dress of his girlfriend, Patty Bredahoff, as Passaro enters from the right, grabs and raises Hunter's gun hand, turns Hunter around, and stabs him at least twice in the back before pushing Hunter off camera.

The credited camera operators for Altamont included a young George Lucas. At the concert, Lucas' camera jammed after shooting about 100 feet (30 m) of film. None of his footage was incorporated into the final cut.

Why It Rocks

  1. The film superbly shows how rushed and poorly-planned the Altamont Free Festival was. For example, people are still setting up the concert while all the more than 300,000 hippies came to the concert.
  2. The cameras are at the right places whenever people flip out like in the scene where Jefferson Airplane lead singer Marty Balin gets knocked out by a Hells Angel and Meredith Hunter's stabbing death.
  3. The film gives a unique look into the Stones, such as giving some time to show the viewer the Stones recording two then unreleased songs, and many interviews.
  4. Memorable shots such as the girl who was enjoying the concert yet at the same time crying, the guy who gave Jagger a pleading look, and the Hells Angel giving Jagger a menacing glare for some reason.
  5. The Rolling Stones, Ike & Tina Turner, the Flying Burrito Brothers and Jefferson Airplane give great performances during the film.

Bad Qualities

  1. The directing isn't really the best.
  2. The film is very disturbing on many levels, especially to someone who's been in an out-of-hand crowd before.

Songs Performed

The Rolling Stones

  • "Jumpin' Jack Flash"
  • "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"
  • "You Gotta Move"
  • "Wild Horses" (in studio at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio)
  • "Brown Sugar"
  • "Love in Vain"
  • "Honky Tonk Women"
  • "Street Fighting Man"
  • "Sympathy for the Devil"
  • "Under My Thumb"
  • "Gimme Shelter" (live version, over closing credits)

Ike and Tina Turner

  • "I've Been Loving You Too Long" (at Madison Square Garden)

Jefferson Airplane

  • "The Other Side of This Life" (at Altamont)

Flying Burrito Brothers

  • "Six Days on the Road" (at Altamont)