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Gimme Shelter Reviews

A penetrating film that turned a concert with tragically inept organization and suspect motives into an epochal cornerstone. Begun as a documentary of the Rolling Stones' 1969 American tour, it wound up being used by police to identify the man filmed killing an audience member at Altamont. Bouncing around chronologically, the film shows the band performing live at Madison Square Garden; at press conferences; on a cover shoot; listening to mixes of their new songs; watching footage of the Altamont debacle on a film monitor. The location of an announced free concert by the band is chosen-- Altamont Speedway. As soon as the concert starts, violence breaks out, with the Hell's Angels--hired as security--indiscriminately attacking the crowd. Songs continually grind to a halt as pool-cues crack heads, culminating in the stabbing death of a young black man wielding a gun. The non-linear, self-reflexive build-up of the film allows for excellent concert footage in the first half, the band singing of rape, murder, and fighting in the streets, intercut with ominous portents of things to come. Later, on the Altamont stage, the luster is dulled, the power gone. Seething glares follow Jagger around the stage, and when an Angel interrupts him mid-song, he has trouble regaining his momentum. Soon his persona is shattered entirely, his strut gone, his performance limp, his exhortations to stop fighting weak and ignored. Once at Altamont, the filmmakers focus resolutely on the mayhem and discord, excluding from the film several of the bands that played that day. In truth, even more violence was committed, much of it unfilmed as photographers were among those assaulted, leaving the cameramen to worry where they pointed their lenses. The filmed murderer, already imprisoned for a separate crime when he was identified via the Maysles's footage, was eventually acquitted on grounds of self-defense, claiming he stabbed after the gun was drawn.