Gimme Shelter (1970/Criterion Collection Blu-ray)
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
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