Much of the first half of the movie is preoccupied with watching Mick Jagger perform onstage on the road. He alone is worth the price of admission; watching him bob and weave all over the place is fascinating. The second half of the movie, however, is devoted solely to Altamont. A fascinating sequence documents the afternoon of the day of the concert, as the camera simply mills through the crowd and captures various photos of San Francisco society, circa 1969.
The Maysles brothers, along with Zwering, aren't afraid, like Pennebaker, to impose structure on their film. They understood that just because they chronologically re-arranged events, they weren't making any concessions to "truth." The elegant flashback structure works magnificently, placing the event firmly in context, with early flashes of foreboding. It plays, therefore, like an inevitable tragedy which we must watch unfold, rather than a Pennebaker-esque "one damn thing after another" film.
The great genius of this movie lies in the way it means all things to all people: to me, it's a statement about how 60s idealism was incoherent, unfocused in many ways and, in the end, really wasn't there so much as, in its place, stupidity and idealism. To Harry Knowles, it's a reminder of how much he loves rock. To music critics, it's about how badly planned concerts kill. And yet almost everyone except for the most virulent Stones hater will walk out of this movie having seen something of value to them. That is what ultimately makes this movie a must-see.
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