XL Popcorn – Gimme Shelter

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 840/1007Title: Gimme Shelter
Director: Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin
Year: 1970
Country: USA

Well, this film wasn’t on my radar at all until I read an interesting article by The AV Club about documentary films that had to change course during filming. I’d seen a bunch of them before (including The Queen of Versailles, My Kid Could Paint That and Sherman’s March) and it spurred me on to finally check out Gimme Shelter.

Before reading that, I assumed it was another one of those star vehicles to try and make Mick Jagger an actor (like Performance). Instead, Gimme Shelter is a film that documents the moment when the counterculture movement came crashing down. Originally meant to be a documentary about the end of the Rolling Stones’ incredibly successful 1969 US concert tour culminating in a major Woodstock style free concert, instead it’s a 90 minute build up to the moment when a gun-wielding stage invader was stabbed to death by a Hells Angel.

The tension is palpable for most of the film as you watch live performances by the Stones in Madison Square Garden and the lead up to an incredibly poorly organised free outdoor concert where 300,000 are said to be in attendance. Even in a ticketed environment there are still stage invasions, but at least those could be dealt normally. At the free concert, however, everything was just adding up to catastrophe. I mean how many concerts have people giving birth and someone drowning in an irrigation canal thanks to them taking LSD.

Given that this was a film commissioned as a concert film for The Rolling Stones, there is a question about how impartial the coverage of the incident was. But, no matter how you slice it, this is one of those great time capsules depicting the actual moment a major cultural movement started to crash time. It is also an opportunity to see some of the big acts of the time dealing with adversity – the speech of Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick after her bandmate was punched in the head by a Hells Angel being a highlight.

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