The rock movie’s very own Zapruder film, Gimme Shelter stands today as a landmark portrait of a band and a generation that changed the stakes between the two camps forever. What starts as an electrifying document of the Rolling Stones’ performances on their fiery 1969 American tour switches to an inquiry into the satanic Altamont concert where Hell’s Angels — hired by the group itself — effectively stomped out the last shreds of ’60s Utopia.
Obviously, the Stones had no idea what was to happen at Altamont when they hired directors David Maysles, Albert Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin. They simply didn’t like how they looked a year earlier when Jean-Luc Godard showed them creating, and seemingly never finishing, “Sympathy for the Devil,” in his lethargic, hypnotic same-titled film. The Maysleses and Zwerin fulfill their obligation to catch the fervor and brilliance of live Stones shows — particularly in songs like “Honky Tonk Women” and “Street Fighting Man.”
They also, in the process, happen to catch a fan being stabbed in a crowd, footage that they then run past singer Mick Jagger. This snippet makes Gimme Shelter cut deeper than any rock documentary: Jagger’s bitter expression as he shakes his head at his own arrogance and naivete is a remarkable moment. Bouncing between the band’s debauched tour lifestyle (including a shaggy, funny session mixing “Wild Horses”) and the fateful, ultraviolent California show, Gimme Shelter lets it all hang out.
This 30th Anniversary DVD edition boasts a new, loud DTS version of the soundtrack, deleted scenes and radio excerpts from the live KSAN broadcast of the four-hour show, as well as a booklet of essays on both the tour and the cultural climate of the 1960s. This is a documentary and a document that is truly worthy of such elaborate treatment.