I went to see Gimme Shelter at the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in NYC yesterday. I have seen this film many times before but really felt the tension last night, perhaps something to do with watching it in a room full of other people. I was torn, as I always am, between the rock and roll exhilaration of a young, hot Jagger prancing about on stage and the truly disturbing bad trip that Altamont became. I have always loved the scenes of the Stones listening to recordings of their own music, particularly Charlie Watts’ amazing face when he’s listening to Wild Horses. It never fails to send shivers down my spine. But the tension is in the film from the start and by the time we actually get to Altamont I am feeling the bad vibe like a host at a party gone horribly, horribly wrong. It’s 1969 and this is the skidding end of the 60s dream.
Gimme Shelter caused a critical furor when it was released. Pauline Kael wrote a scathing review saying: “The free concert was staged and lighted to be photographed, and the three hundred thousand people who attended it were the unpaid cast of thousands. The violence and murder weren’t scheduled, but the Maysles brothers hit the cinema-verite jackpot.” Ouch. I think Kael’s review is both inaccurate and unfair but it does raise some interesting questions about the very nature and intent of cinema verite filmmaking. You can read Kael’s review and the Maysles brothers’ reply on The Documentary Blog. I also highly recommend reading this 2000 Salon article by Michael Sragow which investigates the “true story” behind Gimme Shelter and the Altamont concert.
Sumner Jules Glimcher talking with Al Maysles after the screening (this was taken on my iPhone which I still haven’t quite mastered so excuse the odd composition!)