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Rolling Stones-Gimme Shelter | 1970 Documentary

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This musical documentary concerns the Rolling Stones and their tragic
free concert at Altamont Speedway near San Francisco in early December
1969. The event was all but destroyed by violence that marked the end of
the peace and love euphoria of the 1960s. The night began smoothly,
with the supercharged Flying Burrito Brothers opening up for the Rolling
Stones and performing the truck-driving classic “Six Days on the Road”
and Tina Turner giving a sensually charged performance. But on this
particular evening, the Stones made the fateful (and disastrous)
decision to hire the Oakland chapter of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle
gang as bodyguards and bouncers. It was a foolhardy, careless choice
that turned the night into an unmitigated disaster; halfway through the
Stones’ act, the Angels killed one black spectator, and injured several
others who were present (including Jefferson Airplane’s lead singer
Marty Balin). In the film, we watch Mick Jagger — ere an ebullient,
charismatic performer of bisexual charm — reduced to standing on stage
like a frightened child with his finger in his mouth in wake of the
violence. Unsurprisingly, the Grateful Dead refused to perform after the
violence erupted; the picture ends on a despairing note, with the
Stones repeatedly watching a film of the murder. Celebrated
documentarians Albert and David Maysles directed and Haskell Wexler shot
the film, with heightened instinct and control; as a result, this film
is considered one of the greatest rock documentaries ever made. Stones
songs performed include “Brown Sugar,” “Under My Thumb,” and “Sympathy
for the Devil.”

  • According
    to Albert Maysles (in 1999 while he visited UCLA), George Lucas was one
    of the cameramen for this shoot. Unfortunately his camera jammed after
    shooting about 100 feet of film that night. All of his footage was
    deemed unacceptable and wasn’t used in any version of the final product. 
  • After all the negative press of the supposed jinx behind the
    song “Sympathy for the Devil”, The Rolling Stones didn’t perform the
    song for six years.
  • Contrary to popular belief, Meredith Hunter
    was not killed during the performance of “Sympathy for the Devil”. He
    was actually stabbed just as The Rolling Stones started the first verse
    of “Under My Thumb”. The version of “Under My Thumb” that appears in the
    film was actually played after the killing with the stabbing moved to
    the end of the second version of the song.
  • In the original
    version, played to theatre audiences, Mick Jagger used foul language on
    two or three occasions – appropriate for the moment but later censored
    out for TV broadcast with a “guitar strum” sound overdub to block the
    “offending” word. Only early copies of the film contain the original
    uncensored dialogue.
  • A rough demo version of the classic “Brown
    Sugar” is heard in the sequence detailing The Rolling Stones stay at
    Muscle Shoals. According to ‘Bill Wyman’ in his book on his days in the
    band, the Stones performed the song for the very first time in front of
    an audience at Altamont.
  • Besides Ike Turner and Tina Turner,
    the other opening act on The Rolling Stones tour was B.B. King, who does
    not appear in the film.
  • After viewing footage of the stabbing
    of Meredith Hunter police identified Alan Passaro, a local Hell’s Angel,
    as the man who did the stabbing, arrested him and charged him with
    murder. At his trial, however, closer examination of the footage showed
    that Hunter had pulled a gun before Passaro pulled his knife. Passaro
    was acquitted on grounds of self-defense.
  • Michael Lang, who was
    one of the promoters responsible for Woodstock, was also one of the
    promoters for Altamont. He is seen being interviewed about the building
    of the stage, as well as onstage during the concert.
  • The
    concert originally was originally going to be held at Golden Gate Park
    in San Francisco, but the city wouldn’t give a permit after hearing that
    The Rolling Stones would be on the bill and feared a huge crowd. The
    concert was then moved to Sears Point (now Infineon) Raceway in Sonoma,
    but after a dispute with the track’s owner, the stage and all the sound
    equipment was moved to Altamont within 24 hours before the concert was
    to take place.
  • Besides “Brown Sugar”, two other songs that were
    unreleased at the time are heard during the scenes filmed at Muscle
    Shoals. They were “Wild Horses” and “You Got to Move”. Those songs,
    along with “Brown Sugar” would be released on the classic “Sticky
    Fingers” album that came out two years later in 1971. 
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