Gimme Shelter (1970)

Gimme Shelter (1970)

“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.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Concert Films
  • Documentary

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.

Note: 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
  • 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

Must See?
Yes. This invaluable documentary should be seen by all film fanatics.


  • Historically Relevant

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Gimme Shelter (1970)

  1. A once-must – oddly, for reasons that have little to do with The Rolling Stones… although it is an interesting capsule of them in concert; I particularly like the mesmerizing slo-mo filming of ‘Love in Vain’.

    I didn’t check too deeply on this, but I found myself wondering what the impetus was here for the filmmakers. From looking at a list of the films of the Maysles Brothers, one would think they merely wanted to document The Stones phenomenon, as they had done for The Beatles six years prior. Little did The Brothers know what was lying in wait.

    Albert and David Maysles made many films together but only three, it seems, are widely known: ‘Gimme Shelter’, ‘Salesman’ and ‘Grey Gardens’. I’ve only seen ‘Salesman’ once (largely because it hasn’t been easy to find again until now – and, at that, I had to write Netflix a note to remind them the film was available on DVD but that they didn’t offer it); I look forward to revisiting that one. I’ve seen ‘Grey Gardens’ countless times – it just keeps on giving! Of the three films, ‘Gimme Shelter’ is the least intimate. The Brothers had a slew of people operating cameras. Though what they captured is very much worth the watch, what’s more to the point is how they captured it. The film is a marvel of documentary craftsmanship. I found myself constantly thinking, ‘How did they get that shot?!’

    Of course, the film is showcasing the anti-Woodstock – which is pointed up by the appearance of Woodstock organizer Michael Lang, who was also behind this concert. Audience members don’t really seem to be having that much fun this time around. Long before the major Hell’s Angels incident, many people seem to be tripping on bad drugs. There is practically nothing of the carefree spirit on non-stop parade in ‘Woodstock’.

    (Sidebar: Though it’s interesting seeing an early performance by Tina Turner, it’s very distracting watching her manipulate her microphone as if it’s very ‘well-endowed’.)

    What’s most intriguing about The Stones here is seeing them in subservient roles, watching the rushes of the film they’re starring in in an attempt to understand what went out of control during their concert.

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