Well, it would appear as though they have, for decades, exploited musicians at a height in their popularity to attract moviegoers to slam-bang music documentaries, as well as to remind them of the muscians in question's latest single, by making that single the title of the film. Of course, that's just what you'd think from looking at the title and time of release of The Rolling Stone's "Gimme Shelter". As the critics and audience will tell you, they still had plenty of integrity during rock's early years, so this in-depth documentary on... popular people just hanging out and occasionally playing at a concert is anything but a fanservice cash-grab. Wow, they really will call anything old a masterpiece, because even though this film ultimately has genuine intentions, and I guess enough so to where it's likely that it's not soley a cash-grab, I doubt that the producers didn't have a hand in getting this thrown-together project out to the public just in time for the audience to hit up their local record story. So, yeah, as you can tell, I'm not as crazy about this film as everyone else and their grandmother. Oh, I'm sorry people, but you will have to forgive me if I don't absolutely love an hour-and-a-half long stream of The Rolling Stones literally doing nothing but nothing in a documentary that has no real point or, well, plot, for that matter. I appreciate the Stones and Gimme Shelter has got to be among their best songs, but I don't love them that much (Sorry, Scorsese), which isn't to say that this documentary is bad, because it is actually a pretty decent effort, yet hardly spotless.
Most every rockumentary of this fly-on-the-wall formula at the time were really nothing more than extensive meditations upon nothing but the subjects hanging out and occasionally playing in concert, with no real narrative focus or central point, and something like Bob Dylan's "Dont Look Back" is among the most notable examples, as it literally was nothing but nothing. This film is not simply superior than the still pretty decent "Dont Look Back", but relatively upstanding as a rockumentary of the described type, as I was exaggerating when I said that this film is nothing but nothing, as it does ultimately have a point, however minor, as well as some spots of following the preparations for and the aftermath of the notorious Altamont Free Concert, thus giving the documentary a passable degree of narrative, however in-the-background it may be, being that it is not all that extensively focused upon or developed. This lack of focus and exposition upon the narrative - such as it is - not only detracts from its prevalence, but also lands a heavy blow to its engagement value, and it's not all that interesting in the first place. To make matters worse, although the underwhelming and uninspired narrative is tossed in here and there, its incorporation - however limited it may be - drives considerable unevenness within the film's general and most primarily focused upon formula of simply observing the casual life and musical performances of the band (and even the lunatics who go to the concerts) which, as I've said before, is a heavily flawed formula that has not and can absolutely never work all that well, especially in here, where when it gets to doing nothing, it goes all out with the unrelenting nothingness, so, of course, the excess footage within this documentary really does nothing more than dull it down. The film is uneven, primarily aimless and, of course, underwhelming, which may not be the best word to use, considering that the miss-or-miss formula of this documentary was very much expected to bore, so there's not much disappointment here. Still, again, this film remains relatively upstanding among the batch of boring documentarian studies upon musicians doing little to nothing. That is, of course, not saying much, yet it is still something to say, for although this film doesn't at all knock dead, it is kept going by quite a few notable aspects, particularly when it comes to technical value.
Being that this is a documentary from 1970, saying that the sound design is truly remarkable shouldn't sound all that impressive nowadays, and understandably so, as the sound quality on the film has, sure enough, dated to an extent. However, even by today's standards, the sound work remains pretty fantastic, with much dialogue and every bit of music coming in smoothly and clearly, with a boastful broadness that really grips you and helps in making the documentary - especially during its musical spots - genuinely immersive. As for the more visual aspects of the film, such as the footage, the camerawork isn't all that impressive and is even kind of sloppy at points, not really tossing into the scene all that deeply. However, the lighting that the Maysles brothers provide, while also dated, remains fairly handsome in its color that really emphasizes the tones of the environment, as well as the flashiness of the concert experience. Still, with all of this complimenting of the technical value behind the filming of the concert, what remains to be discussed are the actual concerts, which aren't even close to some of the best you can find in a concert film, yet are still pretty nifty, with a lot of personality in the performers to compliment they're awesome jams that really fire this film up. When the film is not boasting the concert experience, or even its technical value as much, it's simply charming in its simplicity, decidedly not to where it can drown out the dull spots, yet still enough for you to be kept going. Again, the film is an uneven mess of limited intrigue, when it's not as dull, aimless and ultimately pointless as other exmaples of the fly-on-the-wall type of documentary structure, yet what aspects it does accel at really carry it past all of its faults and make it quite watchable, if not just plain enjoyable.
Overall, the scarce narrative within the documentary is hardly interesting, not doing much more than driving unevenness within the film, considering that its main focus is, well, nothing but as much nothingness as you can have with concert footage, thus leaving the film rather dull and ever-so aimless for the longest of periods, yet with sharp technical value complimenting the transportiveness of the film - especially during the immerisve concert footage - and a charm in the simplicity keeping you going through all of the nothingness, "Gimme Shelter" ultimately stands as a neatly stylish and generally enjoyable observation on the casual and work lives of The Rolling Stones, circa late '60s, as well as their notorious Altamont Free Concert.
2.5/5 - Fair