By the time Gimme Shelter reached theater screens, Altamont was a fixed symbol for the death of the 1960s' spirit of optimism. The Maysles and Zwerin used that knowledge to shape their film: their chronicle begins in the editing room as they cut footage of the Stones' Madison Square Garden performance of "Jumpin' Jack Flash," and from there moves toward Altamont with a kind of dreadful grace. The songs become prophecies and laments for broken faith ("Wild Horses"), misplaced devotion ("Love in Vain"), and social collapse ("Street Fighting Man" and, of course, "Sympathy for the Devil"). Along the way, we glimpse the folly of the machinations behind the festival, the insularity of life on the concert trail, and the superstars' own shell-shocked loss of innocence.
Gimme Shelter looks into an abyss, partly self-created, from which the Rolling Stones would retreat--but unlike its subject, the filmmakers don't blink. --Sam Sutherland
Gimme Shelter is regarded by many as the most important rock film of all time. It follows the Rolling Stones on their infamous 1969 US tour. It covers the Madison Square Garden concert and the near-disastrous Altamont Speedway concert, along with actuality footage of the band in meetings with their lawyer, Melvin Belli (also known for defending Jack Ruby and for a guest appearance in a Star Trek episode) It remains one of the most popular rock films ever made and is as thought-provoking today as it was 35 years ago. An actual now-famous homicide was caught on tape and is featured in this film (as well as nudity), making it inappropriate for children.
The Criterion DVD includes many special features also.
There is a theatrical trailer and a re-release trailer for the film as well as the films, "Salesmen" and "Grey Gardens" also directed by the Maysles brothers.
There is film restoration deomonstration, several deleted scenes and outtakes, audio commentary by the directors and collaborator, Stanley Goldstein. There are also 80 minutes of excerpts from the 4 hour call-in radio show done after the Altamont concert and a photo gallery of the Altamont concert.
As an added bonus the accompanying booklet is many times larger than normal (this one is 44 pages) and contains several essays by many different people.
This DVD is a MUST for Rolling Stones fans as well as Criterion Collection DVD fans alike.
There is also much pretension: Guys in suits trying to be hip and cool, and Melvin Belli, the celebrity attorney of his day, making sure he gets his 15 minutes of camera time. The Rolling Stones (at this point Mick Taylor had replaced Brian Jones, who had died in July of that year) seem to be out of place in dealing with their fame, and trying to "act the part", as well as being in a fog of substance abuse. Mick Jagger is the one that appears to be the most "in control", and he tries his best to bring calm and order to the concert crowd, to no avail.
There are short sequences of other groups, like the Jefferson Airplane, and musically, perhaps the best part in the entire film is Tina Turner, as she sings "I've Been Loving You Too Long" all the while using the microphone as a substitute love interest.
Total running time is 91 minutes.
All or in part, the songs performed by the Stones are:
"Honky Tonk Man"
"Jumpin' Jack Flash"
"Love in Vain"
"Street Fighting Man"
"Sympathy for the Devil"
"Under My Thumb"
"You Gotta Move"