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Friday, March 13, 2015

Gimmie Shelter (1970) d. David Maysles, Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin


Book Review
Gimmie Shelter (1970)
 d. David Maysles, Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin
Criterion Collection #99

  Widely known as "the death of the 60s, on film" Gimmie Shelter is also maybe the best music documentary ever made.  It was also made by Maysles brothers, who are perhaps the world's most well known documentarians.  Their Grey Gardens is another Criterion Collection stalwart and their shorter work Salesmen, about door-to-door Bible salesmen, is also included as a Criterion Collection.

  Other than their extraordinary subjects, the Maysles are best known for their low key filmmaking style, but at the same time they appear as characters in their own films, most often as questioners from behind the camera.  In Gimmie Shelters, David is largely on screen, since they use editing sessions as a framing device for "flashbacks" that recapture the magic at Altamount, which ended with the Hells Angels stabbing multiple fans.

  To recap, at the height of their fame and the 1960s themselves, The Rolling Stones decided they wanted to throw a free concert "for the people of San Francisco" in the spirit of the Summer of Love and Woodstock.  They first reached an agreement with the Sears Point speedway, but that deal fell apart on the eve of the concert itself, ironically at least partially over the question of rights to the anticipated concert film.

  For whatever reason, The Rolling Stones decided to ask the Hells Angels to help with security, and the Angels were stationed around the stage.  During the concert, there was an altercation between the Angels and Meredith Hunter, and 18 year old African American. Hunter was then stabbed to death by an Angel, Alan Passaro, who was charged with murder.  At trial, a critical piece of evidence was film shot by Maysles' which appeared to show Hunter with a gun immediately prior to the stabbing.  Passaro was acquitted on a theory of self defense after the film footage was produced as evidence.

   The movie stops before the criminal case- you can only wonder how amazing Gimmie Shelter would have been if it had followed through to the trial where itself was instrumental in acquitting a man facing a life sentence.  Still, Gimmie Shelter is still amazing without any follow up, and is certainly the best music documentary film ever made on a number of different levels, both in terms of the technique and the subject matter.  The concert footage of the Rolling Stones nearing the height of their fame is priceless.

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