New York (Nov. 15) – Last Saturday, Groove Guild Founder Al Risi premiered his new Rock & Roll Picture Show film series at the the Soho House New York on Saturday. The club’s intimate cinema screened Gimme Shelter to an audience that included one of the film’s director, Albert Maysles, and filmmaker Kevin Keating, who contributed photography for the documentary.
On his inspiration for the new series, Risi said: “I had been thinking about all the great music movies that have been released over the years and how it is such a shame that the opportunity to see these films in a theater with a great sound system just doesn’t exist anymore. These films are meant to be seen on the big screen and heard on a great system. The Soho House has an amazing theater and shows films regularly. I got to thinking that there might be an opportunity here. Thankfully they embraced my offer to curate this series.” Maysles remarked that the theater was “a perfect place to present [the film],” noting the “perfect sound, perfect image, and cozy, wonderful audience.”
The private theater presented the documentary of the Rolling Stones’ 1969 U.S. tour and the infamous events that unfolded at Altamont Speedway. Those in attendance were treated to a Q&A after the screening with the influential Maysles – who, along with his late brother David, is widely known for his “cinema verite”-style documentary filmmaking, including one of the genre’s most celebrated films, Grey Gardens (1976).
On Gimme Shelter, Maysles commented: “When you make a documentary, you pray that things are going to happen. They sure did happen.”
The documentary features incredible concert and studio footage of the Rolling Stones including a free concert on Dec. 6, 1969, where an 18-year-old man was stabbed and killed by a member of the Hells Angels after wielding a gun. The Hells Angels provided “security” for the event, and the film shows how the tension of the day grew and eventually boiled over.
Maysles told the audience, “I was standing at a place by the stage and a gentleman sitting below the stage with his child stood up and said, ‘If you don’t leave, I’ll kill you.’ So I moved. I did a lot of the filming in the back of the stage. But [later] the killing happened right where I had been standing. If I’d been there, I’d have been in the thick of it.”
Gimme Shelter not only captured culture and history on camera, but it participated in the revolution of documentary filmmaking. “A lot of what you see in this is due to the fact that in 1959, myself, Bob Drew, Richard Leaock, and Eddie Baker decided on a whole new way of making documentaries,” said Maysles. “No more narration. No host. Just what’s going on. That’s what you see here. You can make up your own mind and feel, I think, something that you don’t feel in a piece of journalism. That you’re actually there. Because you are there. The camera is right there at the most significant moments and filming in such a fashion that you’re really behind the scenes. You’re on the scene. You’re with it face to face.”gimme-shelter
The events at the Stones’ free concert at Altamont Freeway occurred close to 45 years ago, but as the audience and speakers noted, they’re still relevant. “It’s important to remember the time,” Keating said. “Three days before that concert, in Chicago, the leader of the Black Panther party was assassinated in his bed. These unknown assassins and the hidden motives were part of the current running through the 1960’s.”
Without hesitation, Maysles admitted that his favorite moment of the film is the scene in which the Rolling Stones listen to the recording of “Wild Horses”. “Probably because when I was a kid, my father would pull me aside and play some classical music. My eyes were all on his face. And I learned more about the music from watching his face than any reading of the score. In “Wild Horses”, I move from face to face and, call it luck, but I seem to be in the right place at the right time.” Keating agreed and shared with the audience Maysles’ intelligent cinematography in the scene, “You can see in that scene, Albert’s thinking. There’s just one long take, no cuts in there. It’s just a wonderful and elegant illustration.”
Risi is looking forward to the next Rock & Roll Picture Show event and knows that Gimme Shelter was a perfect premiere.
“It will be hard to top Gimme Shelter particularly given Albert and Kevin’s presence but I’m excited to try. Classic movies like this are hard to come by in this setting.” said Risi. “I really want to turn the community that I live and work in onto these great films in a proper setting. I’m looking forward to the next one which I expect to show in January.”
For more information on the events at Altamonte Speedway, take a look at Ron Schneider’s website, Me and the Rolling Stones.