Quick recap: This documentary follows the Rolling Stones on their worldwide tour in 1969, although the focus is mainly on the tragedy at the Altamont Speedway December of that year.
Fun (?) fact: Meredith Hunter, the guy who was stabbed by the Hell’s Angels, was not actually murdered during ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ but instead ‘Under My Thumb’.
My thoughts: Mick. Jagger. Oh my god, Mick Jagger. I know that the documentary touched on a few complex issues in the music world, but let’s just sit for a minute and appreciate Mick Jagger. Go ahead. Take a minute. I’ll be right here.
Good? Ok. So I’ve never been a big Rolling Stones fan, although I certainly appreciate their talent and influence on virtually every rock band in existence. I think the reason I never got into them is because I’ve only heard their biggest hits on classic rock stations and it never occurred to me just how important they were/are. After watching Gimme Shelter, I get it. What’s funny about that is that this isn’t the sort of music documentary that most people are familiar with: a lighthearted look at a hard working group who spend long days on the road, meet with thousands of fans and still manage to find time to goof off.* Gimme Shelter is a critical look at The Stones and their decision to hire Hell’s Angels to protect them as well as the counter culture movement in general.
My take on the whole thing is that everyone had a hand in this and yet who’s really to blame? Starting with the Rolling Sones, when it was announced they would be doing a free concert at a speedway, I knew things wouldn’t end well. They were one of the biggest groups at the time, if not the biggest. Practically the entire country would try to come to this. Which leads to their decision to use the Hell’s Angels to protect them. I read that there is a Hell’s Angels in Britain that the Stones used before, but they were much less violent. It seems that they didn’t know what they were getting into until it started getting out of hand. Which leads to the audience’s part in all of this. There were over 300,000 people in attendance that night and I would guess that most there were on something. People showed up expecting a Woodstock but instead it turned ugly and violent. Meredith Hunter’s death is incredibly sad, but as it was later noted, he had pulled out a gun and one of the Hell’s Angels stabbed him in self-defense. It’s hard to say how this all could’ve been prevented except to maybe have not had the concert at all.
It’s powerful enough to see the crowd start to get out of hand and even more powerful to actually watch as the death occurs. The Stones keep playing during all of this although they do say at some point that a doctor is needed. I imagine that stopping the concert at this point would’ve been useless because that would’ve probably started a riot. So it isn’t until the end of the movie that we see The Stones sitting and watching the footage of the concert and feeling the weight of their consequences. And it isn’t even that they are to blame necessarily, but that there are consequences to everything, especially with such explosive fame as theirs.
Final review: 4/5. A little slow at first but very powerful at the end.
Up next: The Burmese Harp