6. GIMME SHELTER
(1970, Directed by Albert and David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin)
If Tommy is a fictional visual and sonic holocaust, Gimme Shelter is the real thing, showing the literal and figurative end of the Sixties as it documents in harrowing detail The Rolling Stones’ tour of America in late 1969, culminating in the filming of a real killing at the infamous Altamont free concert.
Music and cinema were closely entwined throughout the Sixties, as bands sought to preserve and mythologise their performances on screen, and cinema in turn sought to siphon off some of the life-giving energy of pop music, which was the utterly dominant art-form of the decade. The Rolling Stones themselves were the subject of several such films, from Charlie Is My Darling (a record of their 1965 tour of Ireland) to Godard’s typically brilliant but bizarre Sympathy For The Devil (or One Plus One), which set the Stones’ music against the backdrop of wider societal unrest (and imagery of the Black Panthers activists). But the ultimate Stones movie, and arguably the ultimate rock music movie, is Gimme Shelter.
Even today, more than 45 years on, it is still shocking that the Maysles brothers and their cameramen were able to capture on film the brutal stabbing of Meredith Hunter, a black teenager, by a Hell’s Angel, and then subsequently released that film. It lends the movie an absolute, unquestionable authenticity, akin to the Abraham Zapruder footage of the assassination of JFK. Ironically, therefore, Gimme Shelter is possibly the portrait of an assassination averted, as it shows Hunter holding a gun before he is accosted and stabbed by one of the Stones’ so-called “security guards.” It is one of the fascinating “what ifs” of cinematic and musical history to consider what would have happened if Hunter had taken aim at and even shot a Stone. Almost certainly, the Maysles brothers would have kept their cameras rolling and recorded an even more awful and shocking crime.