The 1970 documentary, “Gimme Shelter,” made by Albert and David Maysles covers the organization and execution of the Altamont Free Concert in San Francisco on December 6, 1969. The later infamous concert was a chance for the Rolling Stones to hold a Woodstock West, but it went up in flames when the Hells Angels took violence at the concert into their own hands.
The Maysles brothers’ use of Cinéma vérité created a very unique (at times) confusing look at the Concert and the Stones. This method of documentary creation is also referred to as Direct Cinema, with no voice overs and only observation. With no set up to what exactly was going on, I found the first half of the film very confusing as I tried to understand what exactly all the planning and various concert footage was leading up to.
Due to the simple and direct view of the events, I found myself part of the reality of the film, however different from my own reality, I could find myself a participant at the concert. Familiar with a new, shockingly naked and stoned reality, I was better able to relate to the people in the audience who were often in focus, surely not in the same state of mind as myself.
In hindsight, “Gimme Shelter” was a provocative and sound documentary about what happens when power hungry and big-headed people are given too much responsibility. With many of the fights being a result of merely kicking a motorcycle (as blatantly stated by a Hell’s Angel member during a radio interview), I was shocked to see how much abuse went on during the concert.
The presentation is what made the movie. My initial confusion was worth my ending respect for the directors, who seemed to be able to give their subjects a great level of comfort. The Maysles brothers created a very strong finished product, full length songs to attract Rolling Stones fans and a crime drama to attract historians and those passionate about the period of the 1960s-70s.