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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 11/16/00

The Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter
1970 (2000) - Maysles Films, Inc. (Criterion)

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Encoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

The Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A+/A+

Specs and Features

91 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 43.25, in chapter 13), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with directors Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin and collaborator Stanley Goldstein), Maysles Films (Albert and David Maysles) and Charlotte Zwerin selected filmographies, two galleries of photos by Bill Owens and Beth Sunflower, original and re-release theatrical trailers for Gimme Shelter, trailers for Salesman and Grey Gardens, 5 outtakes from the original work print, 44-page booklet of essays, restoration demonstration, excerpts from a 1969 KSAN radio broadcast with new introductions by original DJ Stefan Ponek, radio press conference with The Rolling Stones circa 1969, animated film themed menu screens with music, scene access (chapters 27), languages: English (DD 5.1, DD 2.0 & DTS 5.1), subtitles: English

"Won't you guess my name?"

The 1960s were a time of incredible turmoil and great social change. In 1969, two events unintentionally summed up the dual nature of the 1960s. Summer 1969 saw Woodstock, an epic concert that served as the greatest love-in our country has ever seen. Peace, love and understanding were summed up in a relatively violence-free environment. Then in the winter of 1969, The Rolling Stones spontaneously decided they could better Woodstock - this time on the West Coast. They'd throw a free concert to end all concerts... and boy, was it the end all right.

The concert was at The Altamont Speedway, which was the third choice after the first two locations backed out. That information would serve the story little if it weren't for the fact that Altamont was settled upon at the last minute. A stage, scaffolds and lighting had to be built overnight, basically, and that left little room for security planning and room. The concert ended up being held on a smallish stage, maybe four feet off the ground with no barriers. Well, there were barriers... in the form of Hell Angel's. There are two things you absolutely don't do to a Hell's Angel. First, you don't bother them while they drink. Drinking and violence go very well together. Second, you don't - and I mean, DO NOT - touch their bike. You touch it and you bring back a nub for a finger. So... here you have a situation where the Rolling Stones ask the California chapter of the Hell's Angels to act as security for the concert. They're told to hang out, drink what they want and keep people off the stage. No problem, right? Wrong. There's not much room up near the stage for the Angels and, considering they aren't the type to park their bikes and walk, they decide to bring them along. As the crowd surges forward, people begin to climb on the bikes to get better views. This pisses the Angels off, and they start getting violent. This means zero tolerance for those who make it to the stage. If you DO get to the stage, expect either a fist, a boot or a pool cue in your face.

Because of the violence going on in the crowd, both Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead, who were both scheduled to perform with The Stones, were relegated to one or two songs each before things got out of hand. A riot preempted The Dead and a fist to the face of Airplane's lead singer ended their show. What should have been a nice get together to end the 1960s became a firsthand look into the future of American civilization as we know it. Did Mick Jagger, in his role of Satan, usher in the devils that plague us today? Maybe. But nonsensical, meaningless violence is what this event was all about - most notably involving a young man who whipped a gun out and was brutally beaten and stabbed by The Angels. And did he deserve it? Probably not, but then again, he did have a gun pulled out. The times, they were a-changin'.

Gimme Shelter is a beautiful and awe-inspiring look at a snap shot of a time many of us either never experienced or can't remember ('cause if you can remember the 60s, you weren't there, man). Over time, the facts surrounding the events contained in this film have become foggy. Thankfully, because of this film, and the DVD supporting it, we have a better chance of saving the facts for the ages.

But with all the commentary on the time of the film's shooting, Gimme Shelter is more a concert film than it is a documentary. It's hard to separate the two visions of this film. It starts off like a concert film, then goes into documentary mode, then back into concert more and right back into documentary. This schizophrenic film style is banged home by the fact that at various times during the film, we're watching The Stones watch the same film we are. It's part of the documentary, but it gives us a chance to see the confusion of the situation even better. Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts watch the film in utter terror at what they caused. It's remarkably beautiful to see this. And the concert footage itself is incredible. Here we get to see The Stones before they went the way of corporate rock. Mick doesn't quite have his Tina Turner strut down, but he's trying and having a good time. They are at the point were they aren't quite immortal, but better than the average man. They hang out with their buds during the mixing stages of their new album, eat hamburgers and sign autographs for eager fans. One word is all that can be uttered the end of this film, and that is, "wow."

The DVD is even more "wow". Fully restored from the original negative and best possible prints, this disc is beautiful. Colors are bright and the blacks are solid with nice detail. Take a look at the restoration comparison on the disc to see exactly how much work was put into making this film look as good as it does now. But it doesn't end there. The sound too was restored, and restored so well that there's a beautiful DTS track on board. It sounds really, really good. The Dolby Digital track is good too, but the DTS is much fuller with a wider soundstage. I really liked the DTS track on this disc and think it's a much better way to listen to the film. For stereo nuts, there's a third Dolby Digital 2.0 track as well. Guaranteed, you won't see or hear this film in your home any better than on this DVD.

Now, if it were just that - a super presentation of video and sound - I'd say that this would have been a disc worth owning. But it just gets better. Criterion also slaps on 5 deleted scenes from the original work print, which include 3 songs excised from the Madison Square Garden concert footage, as well as some behind the scenes stuff of the Stones mixing Little Queenie and Tina and Ike Turner hanging with Mick and Keith Richards. It's incredibly cool. There's also about an hour's worth of radio broadcast from a KSAN call-in show the next night, with new introductions by Stefan Ponek, who was the DJ on the show. The calls themselves are a brilliant insight on the times, as everyone tries to sift through the horrible aftermath. There's also a commentary track on this DVD with co-directors Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin (who oversaw the editing) and their all-around Renaissance man on the production, Stanley Goldstein. Recorded separately and edited together, it's a good track, but maybe not the best. Some of the information they provide is incredible, but most of it is cosmetic. The track is worth listening to, don't get me wrong. But with everything else on this disc, it's a bit flat. You'll also find a selection of trailers including the original and re-release trailers of Gimme Shelter, as well as two other Maysles Film productions, Grey Gardens and Salesman (which I hope Criterion is planning on putting out, because they look incredibly cool). Two photo galleries from renowned photographers Bill Owens and Beth Sunflower, a filmography of the directors and a 44-page booklet of essays round out this impressive single disc DVD.

Gimme Shelter is a beautiful portrait of what it must be like to stand in the middle of a tornado. For a while, the sky is calm and gentle, but suddenly a house gets sucked into the vortex and the next thing you know, you're in there with it. You can't do anything, but become part of the action. As Mick Jagger struts his stuff on stage, and the rest of The Stones bang out their primal dance music, you can't help but wonder how much they have changed over the years due to the events captured in this film. It must be hell to have something so beautiful represent such a horrible part of your career. Once again, Criterion impresses me with what they do, and I can't wait to see how they top this disc. For a small film, this is a huge disc and I'm glad they took the time, energy and money to bring it back from the brink. This is why I watch DVD.

Todd Doogan

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