“Everybody seems to be ready. Are you ready?”
Four months after Woodstock, the Rolling Stones hire Hell’s Angels to keep the peace during their notorious free concert at the Altamont Speedway in San Francisco. But tragedy ensues when a gun-toting spectator (Meredith Hunter) is stabbed to death.
Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, “the Stones are really in peak form” in this infamous concert film-turned-tragic time capsule. The Maysles brothers — with their “famous cinema verite style” — do indeed “do [the Stones] justice”; it’s easy to see why Jagger, with his remarkably effeminate clothing and performance style, was such a potent symbol of the anything-goes counterculture. Yet even Jagger’s dynamic presence is overshadowed by the pall of what was to come. As Peary notes, Gimme Shelter sadly “squashed the euphoria created by Woodstock”, but I disagree that it “signaled the beginning of an era that would have no place for the love generation” — in reality, Gimme Shelter simply highlights the tensions and dualities that had always existed in America. The clashing of two notorious counterculture groups — Hell’s Angels and hippies — is a harsh yet realistic demonstration of why Free Love will likely never exist on a universal basis, and why attempting to simply “get along” with one another (the ineffectual Jagger sounds for all the world like Rodney King as he pleads for the violence to stop) is a naive pipe dream. Call me a cynic — I guess I am one.
P.S. Though Peary (and others) refer to the tragic death of Meredith Hunter as a “murder”, it was likely homicide in self-defense. Regardless of one’s personal views about the Angels, any security guard worth his salt would react defensively and immediately upon seeing a gun drawn at a high-profile concert.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Mick Jagger’s energetic, effeminate prancing on stage
- The Stones listening to their own recording of “Wild Horses”
- Tina Turner singing “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”
- A time-capsule glimpse — a la Woodstock — of 1969’s hippie counterculture
- A devastating document of chaos and violence during the era of Free Love
Yes. This invaluable documentary should be seen by all film fanatics.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)