Wednesday, April 05, 2006


No film of its era--barring perhaps Apocalypse Now nearly a decade later--captures so perfectly the virulent maelstrom boiling beneath the sitcom veneer of "American values."* Here we have hippies peacefully bashing each other to rush the stage at Altamont, only to be clubbed by beer-swilling Hell's Angels using pool sticks and bike chains. Grace Slick tries to cool down the crowd with peace and love as the Angels punch Marty Balin of the Airplane in the face, knocking him cold as a virulent drugged-out crowd goes nuts.

The concert footage is excellent--the Stones at the height of their cocksure power are something to see. A few verses into Sympathy for the Devil at Altamont fights break out everywhere as fans rush the stage in Dionysic pandaemonium. Mick, only momentarily lost in that glorious onstage strut, becomes powerless and pleads with the crowd to stop as increasingly enraged Hell's Angels bash, kick, punch, club and eventually stab and kill a concertgoer who brandishes a gun. At the end of Under My Thumb a haggard limp Jagger sings "I pray everything's gonna be alright" over and over, uncharacterstically morose and obviously horrified.

My favorite moments: a fan somehow onstage and on camera with Mick begins to metamorphose into a werewolf under the influence of LSD. He's struggling to hold things together but obviously is about to freak out when two Hell's Angels notice him and throw him into the crowd. An enormous and completely naked woman with eyes on Jagger's unit claws and clubs her way through the crowd to the front of the stage, stomps on and pulls the hair of a couple young women there in an attempt to get to Mick, and is summarily beaten to a pulp by a bevvy of beer-soaked bikers.

Interspersed with the raw footage are shots of the bandmembers watching it all during editing; they're disturbed, anguished, and obviously fascinated by what they're seeing, awestruck by their own inability to control what they helped unleash.

*I love making blanket statements like this. Like I've seen a fraction of the films from that era, and as if captures so perfectly the virulent maelstrom etc. means anything at all!

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