Rock documentaries were a big thing in the 70s, or really any musical documentary that followed a band around in an attempt to catch a bit of their magic, and maybe perhaps cash in on their fame a little bit. The genre became so prevalent that Spinal Tap was made to spoof it all. Of all the groups that have received the rockumentary treatment, few have earned the international respect and legendary status of The Rolling Stones. You might not even have been aware that there was a film featuring the Stones, but once you see Gimme Shelter, you’ll hardly forget it.
The film opens with the Stones performing at Madison Square Garden, opening with ‘Jumpin Jack Flash’ before the film almost abruptly cuts to a much later period with the band listening to reports of the turmoil that happened at the now infamous Altamont Speedway concert; a narrative framing device that is rarely seen in documentaries, especially rock ones. The film is shot in a very fly-on-the-wall style, as was typical of the rockumentaries of the time. Really, there’s nothing all that special about the style of the film; it’s the storytelling narrative that makes Gimme Shelter unique from others of its like. The film is very bare-bones, following the band around doing arbitrary minutiae constantly backed by classic Stones songs, interspersed with footage of various concerts featuring, you guessed it, even more Stones songs. This would otherwise be a typical documentary, until the story of the Altamont Free Concert comes into play, where the film crosses into uneasy territory as it presents what happened as objectively as it can.
I liked what this had to offer, but I’m a fan of classic rock music, the Stones included, so that may weight my opinion of the film somewhat, since it consists of mostly Stones songs and songs by other groups at the Altamont concert. Really, this is an unremarkable documentary made remarkable by the fact that all of it really happened, and is presented as is, as the truth. I’d really like to give this a higher rating, but viewing it objectively, the film doesn’t accomplish much and doesn’t really try to. It merely is content with laying out what happened as it happened, which is understandable and may in fact have been the best way to present the story. Still, this won’t win too many points in a judgment sense, but that won’t stop this from being an entertaining and enlightening documentary about one of the most infamous events in rock music.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10