1970; directed by Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin; 91 mins
With the recent passing of Albert Maysles, one of the greatest directing teams has finally gone. Alongside his brother David (1931-1987) and a plethora of collaborators including editor/co-director Charlotte Zwerin, he helped lead the way for the Direct Cinema movement which joined the cultural upheavals of the 1960s to revolutionise the way we see movies. Direct cinema was a form of documentary that was born out of frustration with the standard documentary “lectures” and also the arrival of affordable, handheld cameras that could shoot decent-sized rolls of film. This enabled filmmakers such as the Maysles and D.A. Pennebaker to shoot real events for long periods of time thus recording life as unadorned as possible. As pioneer Richard Leacock said; “It was freedom… You can move!”
The Rolling Stones allowed the Maysles’ to document their ’69 Tour of America and what came out the other end was a film that documented the end of the sixties in more ways than one. Watched as a double bill with Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock, you have an all-encompassing portrait of the Summer of Love. However, whereas Woodstock – the event and the film – became a celebration of the hippie dream, Gimme Shelter and Altamont saw it crash and burn, in particular with the murder of Meredith Hunter by the Hells Angels. The camera captures the moment where two outsider cultures tragically collided and gave a million Conservatives all the fuel they needed.
That the film captured the murder in question was pure luck but to deride the Maysles’ work entirely as sheer fluke undoes all the good work that is established throughout the first half, not least Zwerin’s brilliant multi-stranded editing. Witness the Stones watching and commentating on the footage as played back on the editing desk, the first listen to ‘Wild Horses’, Tina Turner being pure sex or the fascinating, telling cutaways to the adoring crowds turning out at Madison Square Garden. These are not chancers – these are filmmakers who understand people and know how people being people ultimately make the most engaging subjects for a film.