[Metroactive Movies]

[ Movies Index | Show Times | San Jose | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

[whitespace] 'Gimme Shelter'
Stage Rage: A surging audience looking to get some satisfaction from the Stones heightened the chaotic atmosphere at Altamont.

Shelter Skelter

Drugs and violence swirl throughout 'Gimme Shelter,' a rockumentary of the Stones' 1969 tour

By Richard von Busack

THE ALTAMONT MUSIC FESTIVAL was a free concert featuring the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Jefferson Airplane, Santana and the Rolling Stones held on December 6, 1969, at the Altamont Motor Speedway, directly off I-580 outside Livermore. Some claimed that at Altamont they could see the fate of hippie life laid out before them as if it were a map: here was the first strong taste of a future full of bad drugs, violence, betrayal and confusion waiting for them. Hindsight, maybe, but the Charlotte Zwerin/Albert and David Maysles documentary Gimme Shelter does capture a vibe as ably as any film ever has. Gimme Shelter shows the creation of the Altamont mess; the film is rereleased in a new print, with some obscenities and telescopic-lense views of topless women, scenes clipped for the first release 30 years ago.

The biggest mistake made at Altamont was the hiring of the Hell's Angels motorcycle club as security guards, and paying them in beer. The Angels are usually considered the villains of Gimme Shelter, but a viewing today shows them swamped by the crowd pressing against the stage; even U.N. peacekeepers might have flipped out trying to hold back that human tide. The promoters are in over their heads even before the show begins. ("This is going to be an experiment," one of them says. Wasn't it, just.) The mania of the crowd is palpable; the fans are half trampled. Violence is already breaking out between the performers and the audience; so it's no surprise that at Altamont the Stones, plainly, sucked. Mick Jagger's prancing is mortifying, so bad that the footage of him and the Stones here is padded with uncredited scenes of a previous show at Madison Square Garden. The band's sound is sloppy and distorted. Never would you consider this quartet of skanky cockneys as the outfit that would create the album Exile on Main Street later. Ultimately at Altamont, the crowding, the anger, the bad drugs and the cold weather bears fruit, and a Hell's Angel stabs a gun-wielding man to death in front of the stage. Jagger, watching the killing later on a movieola, is only mildly put out by it. A rock star is a self-created aristocrat and he knows the aristocrat's law: it's never your fault. And even if it is your fault, it's never important that it is.

Pauline Kael put it best--she wrote that reviewing Gimme Shelter is like trying to review the Zapruder film. The audience for this film gets neither explanation nor summation--least of all the usual warning that it must never happen again. Woodstock '99, with its raw sewage, managerial incompetence, rape, bad drugs and miserable location--an airport runway roasting in the summer heat--could have been easily called Altamont '99. All that was needed to catalyze the experience were some rock stars who didn't mind seeing other people get hurt. Of course, they were there. We haven't heard the last of this.


Gimme Shelter (1970) a film by Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, starring the Rolling Stones, members of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, plays at the Towne Theatre in San Jose.

[ San Jose | Metroactive Central | Archives ]


From the October 5-11, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




Foreclosures - Real Estate Investing
San Jose.com Real Estate