“It’s impossible to say how much movie-making itself is responsible for those consequences, but it is a factor, and with the commercial success of this kind of film it’s going to be a bigger factor” – Pauline Kael in her review of Gimme Shelter
“The real hero of the making of the film was Charlotte Zwerin, who edited it and got a directing credit. I was stunned with what she got out of my footage. She compressed it and gave you a sense of a buildup of tragedy that you otherwise wouldn’t have.” – Stephen Lighthill (one of the cameramen who shot footage at Altamont)
Watching this classic film of The Rolling Stones’ 1969 American Tour, which culminated with the tragedy at Altamont Speedways, I was left thinking about reality and what it means to “capture” reality on film. In his Low Culture Manifesto Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman dedicates a chapter to MTV’s The Real World:
In 1992, The Real World was supposed to be that kind of calculated accident; it was theoretically created as a seamless extension of reality. But somewhere that relationship became reversed; theory was replaced by practice….. The Real World is the real world is The Real World is the real world. It’s the same true story, even when it isn’t .
The Real World existed at a time when reality televison was either Cops or Wheel of Fortune. People were not culturally equipped to be instant media personalities. One of the things I found so refreshing about Gimme Shelter was that it felt like these people (even if “these people” were part of “the world’s greatest rock and roll band”) has simply been captured on film as opposed to performing for the camera. For example – the scene were the Stones stop at Muscle Shoals Studio and listen to a recording of “Wild Horses”. Even when the camera is noticed, it is not prompting them to perform – even for men like Jagger or Richard for whom all the world’s a stage. This stands in vivid contrast to how I felt watching the older Stones in Shine A Light (where every moment was orchestrated to within an inch of its life and, as a result, felt empty).
I like a documentary film where the subjects feel like subjects as opposed to co-conspirators. Gimme Shelter succeeds.