Gimme Shelter: Where The Stones Stood in Culture

 

 

fans at the Altamont Free Concert, 1970

fans at the Altamont Free Concert, 1970

 

Gimme Shelter is a documentary on The Rolling Stones that selects a certain window of time to depict. This is essentially the days leading up to a huge show at the Altamont Speedway. This was a truly notable show based on the sheer magnitude of it all. In 1969 when this movie was being made perhaps the filmmaker didn’t have the means to show the scale of it all by a birds-eye-view shot, but a series of shots capturing the crowd convey the scene effectively as an endless sea of people.

This sea of people is what fascinates me and is what I wanted to write about. If this many people wanted to engage in this experience of seeing The Rolling Stones play their songs, then that says so much about not only them as band, but also says something about the natures of these events and the attendees.

Albert and David Maysles did a great job of capturing the crowd with good, long shots on specific people. These varying shots served as a window into the world of a Stones show – and into the manifestations of a drug culture.

This show went completely awry: the Hell’s Angles who were hired as security acted as bullies, people were crying, and the show was held up by the Hell’s Angel’s acts of violence. Acid was a popular drug of choice at the time, and perhaps that increased the chances of an emotional response from the crowd. All the stimulus of being around other people at the time, while under the influence of a psychedelic drug can have the ability to essentially lead to people losing their cool. The Rolling Stones shows, at festivals around this time period included fans on LSD. “Gimme Shelter” explores the downfalls of that – the worst possible adverse affect.

Gimme Shelter does a great job of presenting two main themes to the viewer: the first is that The Rolling Stones were the source for commentary and perspective on culture. In one scene Mick Jagger is talking of essentially defining what it means to be a teenager and speaks of reinventing the standards or what is expected. As many of these sort of sentiments, or ideas at least came across in the music, the popularity of it all bolsters that. The second theme this documentary succeeds in capturing is the fan base. The sheer enormity of the crowd, as while as this many people, 300,000 attendees making their way for the free show serves to show how much this group meant to so many people. The documentary focuses on the crowd and what happens to them, both telling of the times in different ways. The crowd itself is depicted for the sake of showing fandom, but what happens to them is to bring to the fore the downfalls of the drug use of a generation.