Legendary filmmaker Albert Maysles had a front-row view of the moment when the Flower Power movement of the late ’60s slid irrevocably into mayhem. Maysles, now 83, will be in Vancouver Friday and Saturday (April 30 and May 1) for screenings of his groundbreaking documentaries, among them the classic 1970 concert film Gimme Shelter, which depicts the Rolling Stones’ infamous December 1969 show at the Altamont Speedway near San Francisco. Along with his brother, David, and a crew of camera operators, Maysles captured an event marred by powerful drugs and pool-cue-swinging violence unleashed on audience members by drunken Hells Angels, who’d been hired by the Stones as security. As the film shows, the chaos peaked in a fatal stabbing that took place only yards from the band.
The footage of the Altamont show, which makes up the last half of Gimme Shelter, has the claustrophobic quality of a truly bad trip. Did Maysles ever feel that he and his crew should flee?
“No, because I wanted to get that story, no matter what it was, even with the beatings,” Maysles told the Straight by phone from his New York office. “The oddest part of the whole thing is that one of the Hells Angels kept after me, wanting to help me carry my bag. So I let him do that.”
The resulting image of the era is, as the revered director pointed out, much starker than what’s portrayed in films like Woodstock, which came out the same year.
“Woodstock was quite a different sort of thing,” he says in his gentle New England accent. “There were a number of crazy things going on, too, at Woodstock. People were on bad drugs there as well. But none of that got filmed. In fact, you’d know that they wouldn’t show that even from the interviews. The interviews are, ”˜Well, isn’t everything wonderful? Isn’t it great?’ So they missed some of the bad stuff.”¦They wanted to show everything to be rosy. And a lot of it was. But then there was a dark side as well.”
Maysles will be at Pacific Cinémathí¨que (1131 Howe Street) on Friday (April 30) for showings of Gimme Shelter (7 p.m.) and his 1976 cult favourite Grey Gardens (9:40 p.m.). He’ll take questions between the two films. At 7:30 p.m. the following evening (May 1), he’ll be at the Capilano Performing Arts Theatre (2055 Purcell Way, North Vancouver) for a retrospective of his storied career.