Gimme Shelter is the landmark documentary about the tragically ill-fated Rolling Stones free concert at Altamont Speedway on December 6, 1969. Only four months earlier, Woodstock defined the Love Generation; now it lay in ruins on a desolate racetrack six miles outside of San Francisco.
Before an estimated crowd of 300,000 people, the Stones headlined a free concert featuring Tina Turner, The Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers and others. Concerned about security, members of outlaw biker gang The Hell's Angels were asked to help maintain order. Instead, an atmosphere of fear and dread arose, leading ultimately to the stabbing death of a fan. What began as a flower-power love-in had degenerated into a near riot; frightened, confused faces wondering how the Love Generation could, in one swift, cold-blooded slash, became a generation of disillusionment and disappointment.
This documentary of the Rolling Stones' 1969 US tour has become a legendary, harrowing symbol of the tragic demise of the 'Peace and Love' era. After a successful tour across the United States, the Rolling Stones gave a free December concert at Altamont Speedway in California with the Grateful Dead (not seen performing), Ike and Tina Turner, Jefferson Airplane, and the Flying Burrito Brothers (all seen performing one song each). The poorly planned show was fraught with problems from its inception. The band unwisely selected the Hells Angels motorcycle club to provide security, and after the pre-existing chaos was fuelled by very visible alcohol and drug abuse, the bikers resorted to violence to keep the stoned, restless, and often naked crowd in line. The result: dozens of injuries and the on-screen stabbing of a young African-American man (during 'Sympathy for the Devil,' no less) by one of the concert's 'staff security.'
In a manipulative but effective move, the Maysles brothers and Charlotte Zwerin filmed Mick Jagger in the editing room witnessing the on-camera murder for the first time. But aside from that unexpected drama, the film also works as a rock-and-roll document, capturing the band at their most relaxed, intoxicating, and electrifying.