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Gimme Shelter: Criterion Collection

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Review by Aaron Beierle | posted November 13, 2000 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

"Gimme Shelter" is often considered one of the very best documentaries on rock and roll in history, although I think it's more than that. The film provides us with a personal and often disturbing look at the events that lead to the chaos of the show, which ended the decade on a saddening note quite different from previous years.

If one thing, the concert shows the stones at their most remarkable, with the entire band pouring out some of their classic songs with remarkable energy and intensity. The only problem is that this is a free concert and free concerts can sometimes get out of control. The band had hired the Hell's Angels as security and things began to get out of control as the day progressed, with the guards powerfully restraining some of the more rowdy fans. It becomes obvious early on that this was not particularly well-planned nor had there been much communication between groups, and tragedy happens as various injuries and even deaths occur. Much of it is rather disturbing and tough to watch as it becomes obvious that the anger grows further.

The film's look and feel puts us right in the audience as the events unfold. Early on, we can sense the underlying darkness falling upon the masses as the need for doctors is first announced during one of the early performances during the day by another band. There will be more similar announcements as day falls into night. It all gains another viewpoint in scenes where the group watches footage of what happened, and at the very end, we see Jagger's stunned reaction to it all.

"Gimme Shelter" remains a remarkable presentation of a moment in history, captured very well by the filmmakers, who give the viewer an intimate look at not only the intense performance from the Stones, but the events in the crowd that quickly went from bad to worse. Criterion has definitely shown care in the restoration of the film, as detailed below. As a bit of a side note, George Lucas is credited as one of the film's camera operators.


VIDEO: Criterion presents "Gimme Shelter" in the film's original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and they've done a great job with the restoration of the film. According to the booklet, they have also used their digital restoration system (which was also used. to clean up instances of dirt and other debris. This is definitely evident as instances of marks or scratches are rare throughout the film, with only some minor marks on occasion throughout. There are isolated instances where grain is apparent to a mild degree, but these instances are not distracting and the concert footage often looks particularly great.

Colors seem crisp and natural, and still look very solid and not problematic in any way. If anything, the footage does vary in quality a bit at times, but I think that overall, it's certainly a very fine job, particularly impressive after watching the restoration demonstration elsewhere on the disc.

SOUND: Criterion really offers a great presentation here. Coming into the film considering that it's 30 years old, I was expecting a rather thin, brittle sound, but that definitely isn't what I found while listening. This doesn't have the smooth sound that some recent concert DVDs present, but what Criterion has done is take the rawness and soul of the performances and given them fresh new life. Offered in both Dolby Digital and DTS audio, both sound wonderful and fill the listening space well.

The whole presentation doesn't sound thin, nor did I find any problems with distortion or other similar flaws. I found the experience of listening to the entire performance to be completely comfortable and enjoyable as the work that Criterion has done here really has translated into excellent results. There are a lot of segements throughout the film that are non-performance, whether it be be interviews or other footage such as the cameras wandering through the audience, and these segements fold up into mainly dialogue, but I always found the discussions to be clear and easily heard. The DTS version was slightly crisper and clearer, but I didn't find the differences to be major.

Although the film's new sound restoration certainly isn't going to compete with the kind of concert audio we hear on more recent discs, I think that my expecations going in of what a 30 year old concert would (and could) sound like were certainly surpassed. Very good work from Criterion.

MENUS:: Criterion really has gone further with some of their recent menus and for "Gimme Shelter", they provide animated menus, and the main menu offers crowd noise in the background. Even the non-animated menus are stylish and easily navigated and as with many Criterion special editions, there are further menus such as the "commentary index".

EXTRAS: Although at first glance this doesn't seem like a feature-packed presentation, to listen to the supplements provided here really provide a more in-depth look at what happened behind the scenes. The commentary and the audio radio excerpts really are fascinating to listen to, and to have the radio segements presented for this release is quite a bonus.

Commentary: Recorded in 2000, this is a commentary by directors Albert Maysels and Charlotte Zwerin as well as collaborator Stanley Goldstein. As with many Criterion audio commentary tracks, those involved have been separately recorded and edited into one commentary track. Although this doesn't provide the kind of back-and-forth that group commentaries provide, I think that this is still a particularly good commentary, providing the viewer with the details of how the film came together as well as the memories of the three of what happened during the filming of the concert.

I think that their stories of the events during the concert are quite interesting, as we learn further the kind of conditions that took place during the concert, even with problems that came up with the recording that had to be fixed later. To watch the film and then listen to the thoughts of the filmmakers on what happened during the filming of the concert is fascinating, and the track only has a few small pauses of silence. Definitely a recommended listen as the commentary opens further layers behind the movie; the reaction to the film, the events behind the show, and more.

Booklet: Although most booklets aren't really enough to consider for reviews, I think that Criterion has included a really nice booklet with the DVD edition of "Gimme Shelter". The booklet provides several essays on the film as well as additional credits and DVD transfer information.

Outtakes: Taken from the work print, the footage is in mono and a little bit rough, but still very watchable. These scenes are from the Madison Square Garden performance, and include "Oh Carol", "Prodigal Son" and "Little Queenie". There is also a backstage clip and a clip of mixing "Little Queenie". 5 clips total.

KSAN Radio Broadcast: Starting with a new audio introduction by then host Stefan Ponek, this segement looks at excerpts from the radio broadcast that took place after Altamont. Ponek provides an introduction to the clips, which are quite interesting to listen to as they provide a further documentary on their own about what happened as well as opinions and reaction to what happened at the concert. This is a really great addition to the disc, and there's quite a lot to the supplements. I found this to be really amazing to listen to.

Trailers: 2 original trailers for the film, the re-release trailer (the restored film was recently re-released into theaters) as well as trailers for the Maysles films "Salesman" and "Grey Gardens".

Restoration Demonstration: This provides a fascinating look and listen as both text screens and actual visual looks provide an illustration of the work that had to be done to restore the audio and video of the film. The before and after differences are particularly remarkable. I've seen this before on the Criterion edition of "Brief Encounter", and I really hope they continue to add this to future releases as I think it's fascinating to see.

Photo Galleries: Large photo galleries by Bill Owens and Beth Sunflower provide a fascinating visual look at what went on at the concert. The work of both is often stunning, and really captures the chaos of the moment.

Also: Filmographies.

Final Thoughts: I think that the extra features that have been provided with "Gimme Shelter" are quite interesting, and the video and audio restoration that has been done to bring the movie to new life is quite apparent here. The film itself is a remarkable document of a moment in history, and the DVD package as a whole is very highly recommended.

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