EPL screens Stones doc on Altamont, the death of a fan and the end of an era

The Rolling Stones do not come off well in “Gimme Shelter,” the documentary by Albert and David Maysles about the band’s infamous free concert at the Altamont Speedway in San Francisco in 1969.

You can cast judgement for yourself when the Edmonton Public Library screens “Gimme Shelter” at the Stanley A. Milner branch on Saturday, July 16 at 1:30 as part of its Film Forum series. The screening will be in the Edmonton Room, admission is free, and a discussion follows.

The Stones hired the Hells Angels as security for the event, and one of the Angels stabbed an armed member of the audience to death right in front of the stage. And if that weren’t bad enough, the band continued to play after the victim was removed from the scene.

Music critics and historians tend to refer to the concert as “The Stake Through the Heart of the 60s” or “The Anti-Woodstock.” The Stones were also accused of trying to upstage Woodstock which was held only a few months earlier.

The Maysles brothers followed the Rolling Stones at several points in their U.S. tour, which started with shows at Madison Square Garden in New York and culminated with the free concert that was originally intended to be played at Golden Gate Park.

It doesn’t have interviews of people telling you what went wrong. Rather, in the reactive cinema style the Maysles use in their other famous films like “Grey Gardens” and “Salesmen” you watch the events as they happened and put the clues together yourself.


And there are a lot clues that emerge between New York and California, particularly after several venues for the free show fell through.

There’s a showboating lawyer who intercedes to secure the new venue, clearly relishing the opportunity to have cameras in his office, but not particularly concerned about where the 300,000 fans who showed up to the concert would to go to the bathroom. Then there’s the publicity-hungry owner of the Altamont Speedway, reminding everyone connected with the show to include the full name of the race track every time they announce it.

There’s also newer and more powerful drugs that concert-goers were taking, as shown by the crazed, sometimes naked people who were trying to jump on the stage. And there’s the Woodstock organizer, who when asked about the disorganization during the days leading up to Altamont shrugged, “It worked at Woodstock.”

As bad as The Stones appeared — and you see everything in this film from Keith Richards swilling whiskey straight from the bottle to Mick Jagger dismissing a stunning opening-act performance by Tina Turner — they weren’t really any worse than anyone else in the movie.

On top of functioning as a post-mortem for Altamont, “Gimme Shelter” has first-rate concert footage of The Rolling Stones in 1969. With Mick Taylor in the lineup playing against Richards and the Beatles kaput, the Stones were without question the biggest show on the planet.

So how, the critics still ask, could the world’s top band have expected bikers to perform security duties? And how could they have finished the show after the stabbing?

Critics today forget that bikers were, for a short period, mistakenly considered allies of hippies because of their outsider status. And as for why the Stones kept playing, watch the movie and see the look on Mick’s face for yourself.

They were too scared to stop.