The Criterion Collection: Gimme Shelter (1970) #99

The charismatic mystery of music and the Cult of Personality. The Madison Square Garden footage: Jagger taunting, teasing, embodying primal qualities of the music transmogrified into flesh. The mouth in particular... curling, sneering, jutting around and over the language. The calculating intelligence of the gaze. The self-consciousness of being on camera. Keith oddly, in the context of his last decade's fame, distant, in the background. Other Stones, shadowy figures. Of course, the film is clouded in shame.

How does one review this picture? It’s like reviewing the footage of President Kennedy’s assassination or Lee Harvey Oswald’s murder. This movie is into complications and sleight-of-hand beyond Pirandello, since the filmed death at Altamont – although, of course, unexpected – was part of a cinema-verite spectacular.
- Pauline Kael 

The artifice of the structure not as disconcerting as I imagine it was at the time. The jaded sensibilities of post-20th century media saturation. Most charming is the innocence, the relative naiveté.

Wild Horses at Muscle Shoals. Brown Sugar in the hotel room. Guards down. Children delighted with their deeds.

All of this is known to me merely through image osmosis, soaked up over the years through photographs and clips. This is the Stones. Compelling as music, as a facet of popular history. But not interesting beyond that. Plays as the calm before the storm.

Altamont. The word itself having acquired connotation of an ending time. Eschatological echos. As if Time itself determined Altamont would be the arena for the Final Apocalypse of 1960s American Hope.

From Wikipedia: Apocalypse:

An apocalypse (Ancient Greek: ἀποκάλυψις apocálypsis, from ἀπό and καλύπτω meaning 'un-covering'), translated literally from Greek, is a disclosure of knowledge, i.e., a lifting of the veil or revelation, although this sense did not enter English until the 14th century. In religious contexts it is usually a disclosure of something hidden. In the Revelation of John (Greek Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰωάννου, Apocalypsis Ioannou), the last book of the New Testament, the revelation which John receives is that of the ultimate victory of good over evil and the end of the present age, and that is the primary meaning of the term, one that dates to 1175. Today, it is commonly used in reference to any prophetic revelation or so-called End Time scenario, or to the end of the world in general.
Perhaps, the "uncovering" of the worm of the Lie that was at the heart of 1960s all along. The golden spectre of Woodstock: Aquarian wet dreams of peace and harmony, the dawn of a coming age, the gathering of the New Tribes. That spectre laying the seeds of over-strident hope in the ground of the Woodstock of the West. In retrospect, it seems at best naive and at worst dangerous.

There's no such thing as life without bloodshed. I think the notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Those who are afflicted with this notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. Your desire that it be that way will enslave you and make your life vacuous. 
- Cormac McCarthy
In the year and a half leading up to Altamont, you have the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. The My Lai Massacre. The Zodiac Killer and the Manson Family Murders.

All of this seems reflected in the Faces of the Altamont Crowd. Everyone either trying too hard or lost in the Weird Nightmare of the Moment. The worst are the blissfully unaware, smiling gaping parodies and pathetic stereotypes of "The Hippy". Media laced simulcra of Haight Ashbury fantasies. Rictus grins and pre-sardonic smiles. We are all trying so fucking hard to be happy. You can almost taste the high octane LSD warping off the screen. There in a flash, what I initially thought was a wolf stalking across the stage. Emblematic. Perfect.

It all has the surreal beauty/horror of a wreck on the highway. You can see it all unfolding and gathering Dionysian energy. The Hell's Angels like demons around a pit of hell. Mick looking out, seeing, stopping, standing still, the music still playing, then himself seeming to become possessed by the moment, the inevitable performance of it all, turning back and dancing with a new daemonic abandon.

The faces in the crowd read like a tableau out of Michelangelo's Last Judgement.

Those on the stage, with the heightened sense of awareness (one imagines) of being filmed, of being part of the spectacle, were the most arresting. Jagger conversing with a figure out of Hieronymus Bosch. The unabashed resentment of one of the Hell's Angels as he openly glares at Jagger.

These moments, prior to the murder, reach their epiphany in the bearded Jim Morrison looking individual standing just behind Jagger. He is clearly in the grip of a nightmare rage trip. The anger and anguish on his face is haunting. You expect at any moment he is going to jump on Jagger, tear his throat out and start eating his face. The Face of Sparagmos. 

I was 7 years old when Altamont occurred. I knew nothing of it at the time. Coming of age in the 70s however, I always had a sense of having been born too late. And having to suffer in the Aftermath of a Fallen World. Of course, I was young and foolish and full of hunger for dangerous and misguided hope. The 1970s seemed to me to be one of the worst times to be alive. I could not articulate it then, but the bright colored candy mod kitsch of the 70's was a harrowing example of Kundera's idea that Kitsch is the denial of shit, a frightened and infantile turning away from the hard core reality of "something before." 

The film Altamont is undeniable problematic. Again, the fascination of the car wreck. I don't buy that it is a snuff film, although the murder electrifies the narrative. And that is it. There is a narrative. A constructed story embedded in the tragic unfolding of the Spectacle, of the Event. The power of the film is how resonate that narrative remains. Auden comes to mind antagonistically: for us, this nebulous pronoun, it was an important failure.