Monday, 29 August 2016

Gimme Shelter

I plan to pick up the 15-disc Rolling Stones In Mono boxset set for release in September and with that in mind I revisited Gimme Shelter yesterday. Four decades on, the free concert at the Altamont speedway track still inspires interest and morbid fascination. I was fact-checking something earlier and found myself in a thread that was 39-pages deep, the discussion eventually descending into a fierce debate about who was to blame for the violence and disorder. Interestingly I read an interview with Keith Richards from a few years ago and he had little sympathy for the slain audience member Meredith Hunter. And yet, even when one scrapes away all the layers of mythology surrounding the Altamont show, Gimmer Shelter remains a shocking film. Notwithstanding the actual murder (mercifully captured in almost imperceptible, abstract detail), watching the concert deteriorate throughout the day makes for genuinely disturbing viewing. The scenes where the Angels dish out savage beatings with pool sticks while the crowd suffers the unpredictable effects of toxic LSD is like watching a car accident in slow motion.

Hell’s Angel Bob Roberts looking decidedly unimpressed by Mick Jagger’s posturing

By the time the Stones take to the stage, the film is verging on the surreal. At one point an Alsatian ambles across the edge of the stage, while the crowd in the front rows stumble over parked motorcycles to the wrath of the Angels. The scene where the Stones are airlifted out of the speedway resembles the footage of the evacuation of the American embassy during the fall of Saigon, complete with members of the entourage clawing for a spot on the helicopter. On the accompanying commentary track, Albert Maysles’ offers a chilling post-script to the film: when the concert concluded, the Angels lit a huge bonfire to which the hippies were inexorably drawn to, and the beatings and violence continued throughout the night.

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