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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Concert > Rock > Murder > Controversy > Counterculture > Gimme Shelter (1970/Criterion Collection Blu-ray)

Gimme Shelter (1970/Criterion Collection Blu-ray)


Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: B     Film: B



The Rolling Stones’ darkest hour remains one of the darkest for the counterculture when an attendee at the Altamont Speedway on their 1969 U.S. Tour was killed.  An incident much-discussed as among those moments the optimism and progress that the late 1960s represented, the band hired Hell’s Angels as security when one man made the mistake of pulling a weapon on a member of the bike gang and died for it; an incident captured forever on film in the David Maysles/Albert Maysles/Charlotte Zwerin Rockumentary Gimme Shelter (1970), now on Blu-ray from Criterion.


I have to say that the band and filmmakers may have been slightly exploitive in the way they presented the material, specially when Mick Jagger acts more surprised than he should by the end in shock at what has happened, but with The Beatles gone, they took advantage of the life/death wave any band at the time would since fans started finding “secret messages” in the music, lyrics and even album covers of bands like theirs.


With that said, the film was intended as a concert film and in that, it is pretty impressive and interesting for its age, capturing the band in a raw, young state and in rare form this particular tour date. 


40 years later, it remains a key record of Rock music at its peak and even if the murder had not taken place, I believe this would still be a great record of the band at their early best.  I must admit that I have not always been a Maysles fan, but when they got it right, they did a great job and this remains one of their most important works regardless of collaborators.


In retrospect, there are forces on the Extreme Right who were glad this happened and used it effectively as an excuse to further their extremist agenda, yet just writing off the band, the concert and the era over a murder is idiotic and the situation is far more complex as this film shows.  That is why I am glad the film exists and it is just happens to be one of those key dark moments that were filmed.


In this uncut version of the film from it’s 30th Anniversary, we can see the band giving a great concert, trying to get the audience to get into the music and handling the situation as best they could, even at its worst.  As this transpires, they perform classics like the underrated Get Off Of My Cloud, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, You Gotta Move, Wild Horses, Sympathy For The Devil, Street Fighting Man, Under My Thumb and the classic hit that became the title for this film.


Of course, the shock is that this became a film and it is at least fair to say that to some degree, this could be considered a de facto snuff film, but that again only has a moderate-at-best degree of validity.  That moment only lasts a few minutes and like the Kennedy Assassination in Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991) is studied by the band on an editing machine in slow motion, with the film going back and fourth.  Uncanny, the death here echoes that assassination and they seem to bookend two eras of optimism cut short.  Worth seeing and re-seeing, captured for all time so people will know and can see what really happened.



The 1.33 X 1 image is framed in the middle of the 1.78 X 1 HDTV wide shape by being bookended by black blocks, which sometimes makes this look widescreen by default.  Originally shot in 16mm film with multiple cameras, there is no motion blur, noise or other issues, while color is exceptionally good for the format and all the grain you see is normal for the format and shooting conditions.  16mm camera original and 35mm duplicate negative were transferred in High Definition and the results eclipse the image on the Criterion DVD with ease, and that looked good too.


That was also one of the titles I was using to make my argument that 16mm was good enough for High Definition, one being revisited over some 16mm and Super 16mm film productions not coming to Blu-ray, but the work on the older DVD showed 16mm could look very impressive (a revelation for too many 16mm productions on DVD (still to this day) that did not look as good as they could) and this Blu-ray just cements the argument.  This will surprise and impress those who have tried to act like DVD was somehow equal to 16mm.  Even better than the Blu-ray for the 1974 Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it is like watching a film print and looks as good as many Super 35mm produced and HD shot material on Blu-ray today.  It can show its age, but in many shots, is all the more impressive considering that.  The Maysles and Gary Weis (The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash) did all the cinematography.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo mixes are both very good and as clean and clear as you will ever hear of this material.  I remember the DTS 5.1 on the Criterion DVD being a little brittle in parts, but this 24-bit remaster of the multi-channel 35mm magnetic master is even smoother, cleaner and richer throughout.  The 5.1 mix shows some sonic limits the 2.0 does not, but both options are impressive and serious audiophiles will want to compare the two.  Stones fans who loved the older albums in their SA-CD editions (some reviewed elsewhere on this site) will also be impressed.


Extras include a booklet inside the DVD case with tech info, illustrations and five essays (by Amy Taubin, Stanley Booth, Georgia Berman, Michael Lydon, Godfrey Cheshire), while the DVD has audio excerpts from a 12/7/69 KSAN Radio Altamont wrap-up with then DJ Stefan Ponek, the original and re-release theatrical trailers, stills section, feature-length audio commentary track by Albert Maysles, Zwerin & on-the-film collaborator Stanley Goldstein and performances by The Stones at Madison Square Garden in 1969 with backstage footage, rehearsals, outtakes, the band remixing Little Queenie and performing Oh Carol and Prodigal Son.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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