Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Gimme Shelter

Earlier in the year we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, the seminal event for what became known as the “Woodstock Nation.” A half-million young people gathered at that music and arts festival in upstate New York and peacefully co-existed through three days which included torrential rains, mud, inadequate toilet and bathing facilities, a lack of food and over-crowded roads to and from the festival site.

This weekend, 40 years ago, another event occurred which some feel was the beginning of the end of the “Woodstock Nation.” That event was Altamont, a free music festival in northern California where a young man was stabbed to death, in front of the stage, by Hell’s Angels who had been hired as concert security. The murder took place as the Rolling Stones, the festival’s final act, was performing and was the culmination of Hell’s Angels brutality throughout the course of this poorly run, and ill-conceived, event.

The concert, and murder, were documented in Gimme Shelter, a 1970 film directed by Albert and David Maysles. The film chronicled the band’s 1969 U.S. tour and the Altamont free concert--the Stones' last appearance of that year. Much of the movie focuses on the negotiations and such needed to make the event a reality but the Stones' performance, and the murder, are focal points of the end of the documentary.

An interesting side note is that a camera operator for the concert was a young George Lucas. Lucas, who of course went on to become a successful film director, had his camera jam after shooting about 30 minutes of film—none of his footage was incorporated into the final cut of the movie.

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