Nearly a half-hour of unseen 8mm footage of the Rolling Stones, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and other artists performing at Altamont has been recovered by the Library of Congress and published on its website, thanks to an unlikely find among 200,000 reels of film that were acquired 20 years ago.
The footage is silent and on the crude side by contemporary standards, and does not appear to have been shot by the documentary crew shooting the footage that ended up in the film “Gimme Shelter.” The portions that include the Stones’ nighttime performance are nearly too murky to make out, and there’s nothing in it related to the stabbing death of an audience member during that set that made Altamont go down in history.
From The Washington Post
“Gimme Shelter,” a famous 1970 documentary made by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, captured much of the chaos.
But none of the newly discovered film appears in that documentary, said [Mike] Mashon, head of the library’s moving image section at its campus in Culpeper, Va.
“I don’t think there’s really anything in the film that adds to our understanding of the tragic events of Altamont,” he said. “But it’s definitely a new perspective …[and] a wonderful artifact to have of a time and place and an event.”
“We genuinely think that this is what we call an orphan film,” he said. “If an owner emerges, certainly we’d be interested in hearing that. Somebody with proof. But as far as we know this film was abandoned.”
And as is so often the case, the tale of how this remarkable video emerged from a mass of unprocessed films is a pretty good story on its own.
It starts in 1996 when archivist/historian/collector/polymath Rick Prelinger — one of the most influential thinkers in our field—acquired a cache of reels from Palmer Films, a San Francisco company that was going out of business. He added them to his burgeoning collection of ephemeral films.
In 2002, the Library acquired the roughly 200,000 reels in the Prelinger Collection. A press release predicted it would “take several years before the Library will be in a position to provide access to these films.” As it turns out, that was optimistic — we are still making steady progress on the collection 19 years later.
Then, not long ago, a technician working on the Prelinger Collection came across two reels of silent 8mm reversal positive—a common home movie format. The handwritten note on the film leader read “Stones in the Park,” so that was the title he gave it for our inventory.
When I saw that, I immediately thought that it could be a home movie of the July 5, 1969, Rolling Stones Hyde Park concert held in London a couple of days after the death of guitarist Brian Jones. But it could also be a copy of a documentary of the same name, which would make the discovery considerably less interesting.
Regardless, I sent the reels up for 2K digitization by our film preservation laboratory. A couple of days later, I heard from some very excited colleagues that the scan wasn’t the Hyde Park show. It was from the Altamont Speedway concert in California and it definitely wasn’t footage from the 1970 documentary.
Many people know the “Gimme Shelter” documentary pretty well, but there’s a lot more in this home movie.