Okay, everyone has always said that, given the choice, I will watch the most depressing movie I can find ninety percent of the time. Today, I re-watched the dark rock'n'roll documentary Gimme Shelter. The movie was directed by the Mayles brothers, and it follows the hottest rock band of the era, The Rolling Stones, on part of their US tour in 1969. Unfortunately, this tour ended with a free concert that you may of heard of, the one at Altamont Speedway. The Stones hired the Hell's Angels as security for this show. Somewhere between 300,000 to 400,000 people showed up, drugs and booze ran freely, and the culmination of the entire event was very anti-Woodstock. A young man was stabbed and stomped to death by the Angels in the crowd. The murder was caught on film, and it's one of the most truly chilling moments in movies.
Now, to say this is a great rock documentary doesn't give the movie the credit it deserves. It's a bona fide piece of film history. It's beautifully shot, and the sound and editing are amazing, especially when you consider that it was put together over thirty years ago. The Stones are fascinating characters, and so is Melvin Belli, the infamous attorney we see in several scenes as he tries to get this show rolling.
Several factors played into this huge event ending in tragedy: bad planning, last minute changes of venue, the size of the crowd, the disorganization, the bad acid and other drugs, the Angels, the Stones. There's plenty of blame to spread around. Watch this back to back with the Woodstock documentary, and it's like you're looking at two moments in time that happened decades and planets apart, instead of just about four months apart in the same country.
Because I am a complete movie geek, I watched some of the extras today, including the commentary. The surviving Mayles brother, David, said something in his commentary that spoke directly to me and my taste in movies. It went a little like this. Would you rather watch a movie as a diversion, or watch a movie you engage with? I would rather engage. Yes, I love the movie Elf, and I love Young Frankenstein, and those are both diversions. But the movies and books and TV shows that I dearly love are those that I can engage in, participate in, movies like Gimme Shelter, that offer more than just entertainment. Many of those movies tend to be darker, and often depressing, or thought-provoking. But those are also the movies you don't or can't forget. They resonate, they're important, and they change, not only their culture, but their viewers.