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Called "the greatest rock film ever made," this landmark documentary follows the Rolling Stones on their notorious 1969 U.S. tour. When 300,000 members of the Love Generation collided with a few dozen Hell's Angels at San Francisco's Altamont Speedway, direct cinema pioneers David and Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin immortalized on film the bloody slash that transformed a decade's dreams into disillusionment.
For more about Gimme Shelter and the Gimme Shelter Blu-ray release, see Gimme Shelter Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on November 26, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: The Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor
Directors: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin
» See full cast & crew
Gimme Shelter Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, November 26, 2009
Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin's "Gimme Shelter" (1970) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. Supervised by co-director Albert Maysles, the new high-definition transfer used for this release was created on a Spirit Datacine from the 16mm camera original and the 35mm duplicate negative. Amongst the supplemental features on the disc are an audio commentary with Albert Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin, and Stanley Goldstein, recorded exclusively for the Criterion Collection in 2000; excerpts from a KSAN Radio Broadcast recorded December 7, 1969; a collage of images from Altamont courtesy of photographers Bill Owens and Beth Sunflower; outtakes and more. The disc arrives with a fully illustrated 40-page booklet containing essays and technical information. Region-A "locked".
Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin's Gimme Shelter chronicles the famous free concert the Rolling Stones staged at the Altamont Speedway, just outside of San Francisco, in 1969. It was to be a grandiose celebration of music and freedom, an event as memorable as Woodstock.
But it was not meant to be. More than 300 000 people showed up and things quickly got out of control. Members of the Hells Angels, hired to guard the event, and stoned hippies started a giant melee that evolved into an all-out fight. By the time the Rolling Stones took the stage, a number of people were seriously injured.
A man was also killed. A member of the Hells Angels stabbed him with his knife before he could use his gun. Later on, an official report concluded that the man was seriously stoned. According to a number of different sources, the Rolling Stones were unaware of the tragic incident while they were performing on the stage.
The actual concert is nothing to write home about. Despite what critics have argued during the years, the Rolling Stones were never a great live band, and Gimme Shelter certainly proves it. Mick Jagger's singing is erratic and frustrating while the rest of the band constantly looks disorganized. Jagger's eccentric behavior on the stage – the "dancing", grimacing, and gesturing – impresses more than his singing does.
Yet, the crowds absolutely loved the Rolling Stones. In the concert footage included in Gimme Shelter, women are frequently seen jumping on the stage and rushing to hug and kiss Jagger. Men are seen waving at him.
Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Crosby, Stills & Nash (as well as Ike and Tina Turner, and B.B. King) were also at the Altamont Free Concert. Grateful Dead were scheduled to perform as well, but after things got out of control they packed up their bags and left.
Gimme Shelter was shot with hand-held cameras over the course of ten days. As a result, a lot of the footage is rather jerky. In addition to all the concert material featured in the film, the Rolling Stones are also seen in the cutting room with Albert and David Maysles, looking at and commenting on what would eventually make it into Gimme Shelter. Additionally, there is footage showing Jagger giving interviews, the band traveling and staying at a Holliday Inn, as well as the event organizers discussing different security measures with the local authorities.
What makes Gimme Shelter fascinating to behold is the historical perspective the film offers to its viewers. It de facto captures the end of an era – a beautiful, inspiring, frustrating and violent one. And though Gimme Shelter is a film filled with music, the music really isn't the focus of attention. The people that came to the Altamont Speedway is what the film celebrates, as well as their desire to be part of something important, something that many wished would rival Woodstock.
Note: According to director Albert Maysles, future Star Wars director George Lucas was one of the cameramen at the event. Unfortunately, due to technical issues with his camera, the footage he shot did not make it into the film.
Gimme Shelter Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Gimme Shelter arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
A new high-definition transfer was created for Gimme Shelter on a Spirit Datacine from the 16mm camera original and the 35mm duplicate negative under the supervision of co-director Albert Maysles. Lee Kline, Albert Maysles, and Maria Palazzola were the telecine, audio and 35mm restoration supervisors.
Fine detail, definition, and grain have benefited from the upgrade to 1080p. Despite some minor fluctuations, the-color scheme is also noticeably better on the Blu-ray. On the SDVD release of Gimme Shelter, the reds, blues, browns, and blacks are weaker. Furthermore, when blown through a digital projector, the film retains a nice thick - I would also describe it as healthy - look. A few minor flecks pop up here and there, but it is very easy to tell that a serious clean-up has been performed - there are no disturbing debris, scratches, splices or warps. The occasional blockiness that appears on the SDVD release has also been addressed. To sum it all up, given the nature of the original elements, I believe that this is undoubtedly the best Gimme Shelter has ever looked. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" release. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free player in order to access the disc's content).
Gimme Shelter Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. I opted for the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track and later on did a few random comparisons with the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track for the purpose of this review.
Technology has advanced so much nowadays that audio and film technicians can practically do miracles with older films. Still, a properly restored stereo track impresses me a lot more than a freshly done 5.1 mix (Criterion's release of The Complete Monterey Pop Festival immediately comes to mind).
Similar is the case with Gimme Shelter and its DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. I prefer its simplicity, the type of "dated" feel it offers. Dynamically, this is a very strong audio track that captures the intensity and atmosphere of the live performances heard throughout Gimme Shelter flawlessly. Mick Jagger's voice, the raspy guitar solos, the crowd noise, and especially the well rounded bass are very convincing.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track adds quite bit in addition to what the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track has to offer. The crowd is more prominent in the surrounds, the bass and drums brought forward, and Mick Jagger's singing slightly fuller. The transition from the simple dialog footage to some of the concert scenes, however, does not appeal to me. I prefer the slightly better balanced DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. Still, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 tracks are both very strong, and probably one of the key reasons why you would want to upgrade your SDVD copy of Gimme Shelter.
Gimme Shelter Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
1969 KSAN Radio Broadcast - recorded December 7, 1969, KSAN's four-hour post-Altamont broadcast fielded calls from a range of people who attended the concert and a few who helped organize it. Among those included in the excerpts provided on this Blu-ray disc are Sam Cutler, road/production manager for the Rolling Stones' 1969 tour; Emmet Grogan, a leader in San Francisco's counterculture movement; and Sonny Barger, then head of the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels. In 2000, the late Stefan Ponek, the host of the original show, recorded new introductions to the material especially for Criterion. Not subtitled. (30 min).
Outtakes - a rare archival footage of the Rolling Stones in their prime preserved as a work print from the original editing sessions for Gimme Shelter. The performances and backstage footage - "Mixing Little Queenie", "Oh Carol", "Prodigal Son", and "Backstage with Mick, Ike, and Tine" - were filmed at Madison Square Garden on either November 27 or 28, 1969. The mixing sessions occurred in London in early 1970. Not subtitled. (19 min, 1080i/60).
Images from Altamont - photographers Bill Owens and Beth Sunflower were on hand at Altamont December 6, 1969. Two collections of images, from both photographers, are offered here. (1080p).
Trailers - two theatrical trailers (1080i/60) and a rerelease trailer (1080i/60).
Audio Commentary - recorded exclusively for the Criterion Collection in 2000, this commentary features director Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, along with collaborator Stanley Goldstein.
Booklet - a 40-page illustrated booklet containing Amy Taubin's essay "Rock-and-Roll Zapruder" (the author is a contributing editor at Film Comment and Sight + Sound. She also writes frequently for Artforum); Stanley Booth's "The True Adventure of Altamont"(the author traveled with The Stones in 1969 while writing The True Adventures of The Rolling Stones, Chapter 31, which details the complete events from Altamont); Georgia Bergman's essay "Snapshot From The Road" (the author, known then as Jo, was Mick Jagger's personal assistant from 1967 to 1972. She now lives in Los Angeles where she is a writer, television producer, and cat counselor); Michael Lydon's "The Decade That Spawned Altamont"; and Godfrey Cheshire's "The Demonic Charisma of Gimme Shelter" (the author is a film critic and filmmaker based in New York City).
Gimme Shelter Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Gimme Shelter is a fascinating and at the same time rather frustrating film. I, personally, have never been as enthusiastic about it as I was, and still am, about Monterey Pop. Frankly, I think that Gimme Shelter became the landmark it is considered to be today for all the wrong reasons. Still, it is undoubtedly a very unique film that deserves to be seen. RECOMMENDED.
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