Gimme Shelter

Gimme Shelter features a freak-out scene as an analysis of a freak-out scene that actually happened in front of a camera. The documentary filmmakers Albert and David Mayles, in filming the performance of "Under My Thumb" at the Altamont Speedway in a concert before 300,000 on the last days of 1969, recorded a murder. A young man with a gun is stabbed by a Hell's Angel bodyguard near the stage. Nobody on stage knows what is going on, people standing near the stage looked dazed and unable to continue their bobbing to the music. The crowd of bodies opens briefly for the action then closes again and we hear calls on the public address system for a doctor.

Minutes later in the film, we sit at a Steenbeck film editor with Mick Jagger. Albert Mayles, wearing the headphones of a sound recordist, shows both us and Mr. Jagger the murder, as captured by the camera. He stops the film at a frame so that we can see the gun of the murdered man. We see a gunshaped swish, black against a woman's crochet dress. A few frames forward we see a light colored swish in the hand of the Hell's Angel. We see a knife in movement, curved by its arc forward. Against the dark of night, we see that moon-shaped swish descend into the neck of the man with the gun. This slow accumulation of images, frame by frame, these minute plucks of reality, are blurry grainy terrifying. We see Mick Jagger's reaction to the images, we see Charlie Watts' reaction to the images. The filmmaker run the machine and stands to the side, like a surgeon showing a patient the residue of an operation just completed.

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Copyright © 1996 John Akre

This page last revised 12 November 1997