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The Criterion Collection presents

Gimme Shelter (1970)

"It's creating a sort of microcosmic society, you know, which sets the example to therest of America as to how one can behave in large gatherings."- Mick Jagger

Stars: Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts, Keith Richard, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman
Other Stars: Ike & Tina Turner, Flying Burrito Brothers, Jefferson Airplane, Melvin Belli, JerryGarcia
Director: David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin

Manufacturer: Crush Digital Video
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, drug use, nudity, sexual contact)
Run Time: 01h:31m:36
Release Date: 2000-11-14
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-AB+ B+


DVD Review

The brothers Maysles, David and Albert, documented the start of the 1960s in their documentary film about the Beatles first visit to the US. They also happened to be filming when the 1960s came crashing down on December 6, 1969, at the Altamont Speedway in San Francisco. On that date, a free concert headlined by the Rolling Stones ended in mayhem, violence and murder, exposing the ugly underbelly of the 60s and ending a period of innocence and belief in getting along demonstrated in Mick Jagger's optimistic quote above.

The first half of the documentary takes three disparate threads and weaves them together. These are the appearance of the Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden, at the beginning of their 1969 US tour, where all seems positive and optimistic and the Stones are on top of the world; the efforts to set up the free concert after the Golden Gate Park and another speedway fall through, leaving insufficient time to make proper arrangements for Altamont; and in a film-within-a-film, Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts reviewing footage of the Altamont concert while the radio plays interviews about the violence which disrupted the show. These threads unite in the second half, which provides excerpts from the Altamont concert. Although the emphasis should have been on music and a good time, the film keeps returning to the disruptions and violence that marred the show, until finally an 18-year-old black man by the name of Meredith Hunter unwisely pulls a gun in front of several Hell's Angels and ends up stabbed to death near the front of the stage (though not in front of the stage, as legend would have it).

The film takes a look at what went wrong at Altamont, and although the original cut with its freeze frame ending on Jagger put the blame squarely on the Stones, the final version is far more ambiguous. From the extra materials and the commentary, it appears that the ambiguous answer is in fact the correct one. While the Stones are often credited with hiring the Hell's Angels as security for the concert, it's apparent that the concert promoters and the Stones' road manager are the responsible parties. When that's combined with a payment for security in the form of a busload full of beer and a license to "do what you have to" to keep order, and the boneheaded decision to tell the Angels to park their bikes in front of the stage, where they would inevitably be damaged, it hardly seems possible that Altamont could have ended up any way other than how it did. Yet the Stones also bear some of the responsibility for glorifying the culture of violence in Street Fighting Man. Despite Jagger's pleas for the crowd and the Angels not to fight and just be cool, there's a definite sense that the pose (revealed as such in the film) helped contribute to the anarchic atmosphere.

One of the most touching moments of the film is Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane pleading with the audience to "Easy....Easy...Please be quiet" and to calm down, to no avail. Band member Marty Balin ended up knocked unconscious by an unruly Angel, and you can see the devastation on Slick's face as she realizes what the flower children of the 60s have become. The irony is underlined by the camera as we see the head of the San Francisco Hell's Angels glowering over the shoulder of Jagger as he sings Sympathy for the Devil

Not really a concert film, but a statement about an era, Gimme Shelter is an important document that is given even greater resonance in this jam-packed special edition.

Musical numbers:
Jumping Jack Flash
You Gotta Move
Wild Horses
Brown Sugar
Love in Vain
Honky-Tonk Woman
Street Fighting Man
Sympathy for the Devil
Under My Thumb
Gimme Shelter

Ike & Tina Turner: I've Been Loving You Too Long
Flying Burrito Brothers: Six Days on the Road
Jefferson Airplane: The Other Side of This Life

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: One might not be impressed by the image displayed on this disc until you realize two things: that the picture was shot on 16mm film, and just how bad the 35mm prints looked before. When we see the trailers and the restoration demonstration, we see the enormous depth, clarity and color is restored to the film. Yes, it's grainy and it's not terribly sharp. But you're not going to get rid of either of those problems with this source material. Considering the low light filming circumstances of much of the film, the picture is excellent. Colors are vivid and blacks are rich and deep. The paisley patterns of some of the crowd stand out in their clarity in an extraordinary way. The doomed Meredith Hunter, in his luminous green suit, stands out immediately. This film looks like it could have been shot on 16mm a year ago. Absolutely no film damage or speckling is visible. A first-rate job of restoration.

Image Transfer Grade: A

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The restored audio on the film is quite good for live concert footage. The DD 5.1 remix of the 4-track sound has plenty of thumping bass and an excellent soundfield. The New York concert segments utilize the surrounds mainly for crowd noises and reverberation, lending a good illusion of being in Madison Square Garden. The vocals tend to be center-oriented. The DD 2.0 track is adequate, but pales in comparison to the 5.1 track when it comes to richness and depth of sound. The limitations of live music are painfully obvious, but that's not a problem of the transfer. The non-concert segments have a bit of hiss, but it's not overly distracting.

The dts audio mix is significantly different from the DD 5.1 mix. The dts track gives a sensation of a much broader front soundstage. The guitar sound seems significantly boosted, lending the audio a feeling of being at a live concert. The audience noises in the surrounds are also more forward. Jagger's vocals don't seem to be comparably boosted, so at times they get a little more lost than is the case in the DD track. However, if the live experience with heavy guitar is what you're after, the dts track will not disappoint.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 11 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
3 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Salesman and Grey Gardens
5 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Directors Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, collaborator Stanley Goldstein
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Stills gallery
  2. 44-page booklet with essays and photographs
  3. Excerpts from KSAN Radio's Altamont wrapup of December 7, 1969
  4. Rolling Stones press conference
  5. Restoration Demonstration
Extras Review: Criterion's disc is absolutely packed with extras. First off is a commentary from the two surviving directors, as well as Stanley Goldstein who acted as soundman for Albert Maysles as well as being generally involved in the production. The commentary is apparently screen-specific, but the topics tend to wander off of the material on the screen. The piece is well-edited and highly informative. It very nicely highlights the importance of Zwerin's contribution, knitting the hours of footage into the 91 minutes that we have here and editing to preserve the flavor of the concerts.

Probably the most interesting extra is a one-hour-plus abridgement of the four-hour radio program on alternative station KSAN from the day after the Altamont concert. Unlike modern talk radio shows, this program included calls from people intimately involved in the concert and the fracas, such as the Stones' road manager and several of the Hell's Angels. From the way that the participants go on about what a disaster Altamont was, the naivete and comparative innocence of the time is highlighted in a way that no essay or commentary or even the film itself can do. The audio track of the complete press conference of the Stones prior to the concert (excerpted in the film) is also included. Unfortunately, our review disc (despite having no apparent damage) had horrific audio dropouts towards the end of the press conference and also on the track of the radio program with Sonny Barger of the Hell's Angels, rendering these parts of the disc unlistenable.

A collection of black and white and color photographs by Bill Owens and Beth Sunflower are included on the disc, as are several trailers for the film on its original release and its recent rerelease. The washed-out and murky appearance of the film on the earlier trailers is in incredible contrast to the rerelease trailer and the restored film. This amazing difference is highlighted on the restoration demonstration; the distinction between the two, especially of the woman in a green and mauve dress dancing, is nothing short of flooring. The difference in the audio is less astonishing, but it is clearly much improved over the unrestored material.

Several lengthy essays are included in the hefty booklet, giving a good background to the event and the musical scene of the 1960s. Sonny Barger makes yet another appearance here, with a brief essay about the Angels' involvement in the fracas. An extensive filmography for the Maysles is included on the disc, as well as trailers for two of their other films. An excellent package, if not for the audio dropouts.

(Editor's Note: We have since learned more about the audio dropout situation on the extras here. Baiscally, Criterion faced the decision of not including two of the supplements for the Gimme Shelter disc due to the audio dropouts—the cost of repairing them would have been prohibitive for supplements—but decided it was better to include them "as-is" rather than not at all.)

Extras Grade: B+

Final Comments

A gorgeous restoration of a classic rockumentary of the end of an era, given a superb new 5.1 remix, and a tremendous amount of extras by Criterion. An absolute must for lovers of film, rock, or the 1960s.

Mark Zimmer 2000-11-12