Wednesday, May 20, 2015
2015 Cannes Marathon: Gimme Shelter
(Played Out of Competition at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival)
Directed by Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin, Gimme Shelter is a film that chronicles the final weeks of the Rolling Stones’ American tour in late 1969 which would culminate in the disastrous Altamont Free Concert. The film documents the band on the road just as they were about to end a period in time for the band but it would end on a very dark note that would become infamous. The result is one of the most lively but also unsettling films about the Rolling Stones’ encounter with tragedy and chaos.
The film revolves around the Rolling Stones’ American tour in late 1969 just a few months following the death of founding guitarist Brian Jones who was replaced by Mick Taylor. To celebrate the tour’s success, the Stones planned to have a free concert in San Francisco which was supposed to take place at Golden Gate Park but circumstances forced plans to change where the Stones and their staff choose the Altamont Speedway as their final location for their free concert on December 6, 1969 with the help of Woodstock concert organizer Michael Lang. What would happen wouldn’t just end the 60s on a very dark note but it would also haunt the Stones for many years as they would embark into a very troubling period.
While the film isn’t just about the band’s tour and the infamous concert at Altamont, it is also about the band taking time to record material for what would become their 1971 album Sticky Fingers. Much of it is seen by members of the Stones with the Maysles Brothers as they’re reviewing all of the footage in the editing room. Much of the film’s direction by the Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin not only have singer Mick Jagger and drummer Charlie Watts review the footage but also see and hear things about what had happened. Most notably where Jagger watches the press conference of the band announcing the free concert where a journalist asked if Mick is satisfied not just sexually but also philosophically and financially. At the conference, Mick would say yes but his response from watching his own answer is “rubbish”.
Much of the direction of the film, where the Maysles serve as their own cinematographers, is very direct as it’s shot with hand-held cameras to play into every moment that is happening. Even as they would capture not just some of the performances of the Stones but also a performance of Ike and Tina Turner doing Otis Redding’s I’ve Been Loving You for Too Long during a show where they were opening for the Stones as Mick would watch that performance in the editing room. The performances of the Stones are very lively as the Maysles capture something that the band is famous for as it’s set in a controlled environment as opposed to what would happen at Altamont.
The film would move back-and-forth from the Stones watching the footage to the events that was happening in late 1969 which would culminate with the show at Altamont as performances from the Flying Burrito Brothers and Jefferson Airplane would show the two bands performing as the latter would be ravaged by chaos. Even as Airplane vocalist Marty Balin would try to stop a fight only to get knocked out. What happens is not just a lack of control that is emerging but also fear as Maysles brothers and several camera operators (including George Lucas) would show some of the things that are happening as it’s the opposite of what the 60s are about. There’s elements of violence and unruliness where it would culminate with the Stones’ performance as they’re trying to get people to cool out.
With the aid of editors Ellen Giffard, Robert Farren, Joanne Burke, and Kent McKinney along with a large number of sound crew including Walter Murch, the film captures not just through some of the brilliance of the performance but also the sense of dread that emerged into the Stones’ performance at Altamont. Most notably the scene where Jagger asks David Maysles to reveal the footage of Meredith Hunter being killed as it is revealed that he was holding a gun. There is also a scene early in the film where Watts listens to a recollection from a member of the Hells Angels biker gang that did security for that concert as it also a dark moment into the mistake that the Stones made for that concert.
Gimme Shelter is a terrifying yet outstanding film from the Maysles Brothers and Charlotte Zwerin. It’s not just one of the finest films about the Rolling Stones in a period in their career but also one of the most eerie documentary films ever made. Especially as it captures a very dark moment that ended the decade on a very tragic note. In the end, Gimme Shelter is a spectacular film from Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin.
Related: Sympathy for the Devil (One Plus One) - Grey Gardens - Crossfire Hurricane
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