Gimme Shelter

I was quite looking forward to this film. Although I’m not a massive Rolling Stones fan, I can often be found listening to their greatest hits, amongst which there are many songs I’m rather partial to, in particular Paint It Black, You Can’t Always Get What You Want and Honky Tonk Women, and I haven’t heard too many of their songs that I’ve particularly disliked. Also, the only music documentary I’d seen prior to this was Anvil, which is pretty good if you ask me. 

The film follows the Rolling Stones on their 1969 US tour, culminating in a massive free show at Altamont Speedway, San Fransisco. The events of that show have gone down in history, remembered as the moment the 60s ended when a concert-goer was stabbed and killed by the Hell’s Angels, who were hired as security for the event. Many other audience members were beaten or injured during the concert, which was rife with drug abuse, nudity and people giving birth, making me all the more grateful to have been born long after all that free thinking and spirituality was around.  

Before getting to the Altamont, we see various other performances throughout the tour, including a terrific rendition of Jumpin’ Jack Flash at Madison Square Garden, and footage of the band listening to their music in hotel rooms, and watching the editing process of this very film in the editing bay. We are given a bit of an insight into the band’s personalities (Mick Jagger comments that “It’s nice to have a chick [perform with them] occasionally” after Tina Turner belts out I’ve Been Loving You Too Long), but for the most part I was sadly bored, despite Jagger’s relatively engaging presence. He always seemed fairly unsure of where he was or what he was doing (can’t think why), and he had an air of someone who couldn’t quite understand exactly how he’d gotten to where he was, and just generally dicked about on stage whilst the other band members were concentrating on getting the job done. What I expect from music may not be the same as other people – I tend to prefer a good quality recording rather than atmosphere and ambiance, hence why I rarely go to musical events – and I imagine I’d have been severely disappointed had I attended any of the gigs on the Stones’ tour.

The only interesting segments were about the organising of the free concert, having to arrange a venue to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of audience members, but this was overshadowed by the impending on-camera death of Meredith Hunter, an audience member who attempted to mount the stage. I do not relish the opportunity to watch an actual death on screen, and I did not feel comfortable watching what is essentially a scene from a snuff film. I get the feeling that had this event not taken place on film, then this documentary would probably not appear on the 1001 list. It’s only really worth watching for the stellar soundtrack.

I get the feeling I’ll track down Martin Scorsese’s Shine A Light documentary eventually, because, y’know, it’s Scorsese; but sadly all this film left me with was an increased desire to re-watch Spinal Tap.

Choose life 5/10

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5 thoughts on “Gimme Shelter

  1. Interesting. I watched Gimme Shelter a while ago, so my memory is a bit hazy. However, I do remember really enjoying it. I loved the fly-on-the-wall style of the filmmakers in the footage away from the concerts, and the performances capture the Stones at a really interesting time in their career. Shine a Light is a solid concert, but I'd place this well above that one because of the era. Either way, I think it's worth checking out.

  2. I'll be honest, I watched this film a while ago, and it's taken me a little time to get to writing about it, but the fact that I can't remember too mcuh about it must mean something. I had my notes to go on, but other than the parts I wrote about I think the film was fairly forgettable.

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