This is a guest post by Mike Mashon, head of the Moving Image Section.
Here at the Library, we’re dedicated to the acquisition, description, preservation and accessibility of our film, video, and sound recording collections regardless of perceived “worth.” We really do want to make it all available for future generations ̶ so we don’t necessarily prioritize beloved classics over a refrigerator ad or the song “Fido is a Hot Dog Now.”
But every so often something comes along that attracts a lot of attention – such as a never-before-seen home movie from the notorious Altamont Free Concert in 1969, in which the Hell’s Angels, who had been hired to provide security, stabbed a fan to death during a confrontation over a gun. It was a major cultural turning point of the era, and the heart of the Maysles Brothers 1970 documentary “Gimme Shelter.”
But this new find was home footage from the event that had never seen the light of day and it’s now available for viewing on the National Screening Room. (There is no audio, so don’t try to fix your sound.)
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.
Although the footage is silent, we were all thrilled to see close-up footage of concert performers who were cut from the film, such as Carlos Santana and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. (CSNY wasn’t pleased with their performance and refused to let the Maysles include them.) It was especially great to see Gram Parsons fronting the Flying Burrito Brothers, since you only see the back of his head in “Gimme Shelter.” Even better, there are good shots of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards off-stage watching him perform!
The second reel is from the Stones’ evening performance, which, while it captures some of chaos so memorably seen in “Gimme Shelter,” doesn’t add anything to our understanding of the death of Meredith Hunter at the hands of a member of the Hell’s Angels.
So what’s the legal status of this home movie? After checking in with Rick to see if he had any inkling of the film’s existence—he didn’t—and not discovering any pertinent documentation, we believe that it is an orphan work, in this case abandoned at Palmer Labs by whoever shot it. They just never picked it up.
We have a particular fondness for home movies here at the Library. Several are on the National Film Registry and of course the Prelinger Collection is full of them, so who knows what further treasures will emerge?
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Such an unsettling time. I will be sharing this with my collegaues at Maine libraries to let the cellphone camera generation see how things were done then.
I have always loved the Stones…not the Beatles.
I was only 2 so I really don’t remember. But I have an old friend that made the front cover of the Rolling Stones album. 🙂
Great to see! (From a Gram Parsons fan!!) Thanks to M/B/RS for the careful digitization effort. Forgive the technical query in this context but, as I watched, I puzzled over frame rate. It is hard to tell with silent footage: some looked fast, some looked just right. What did M/B/RS professionals reckon out for the shooting frames-per-second? Also, am I correct to assume that you scan “one frame at a time” and then, later, adjust the speed of the viewing copy? Thanks again and best from Carl
Here’s a response from Mike Mashon, head of the Moving Image Section:
The Altamont home movie was scanned at 24fps by the NAVCC Film Laboratory and the resulting file was ingested into the Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation archive in Culpeper, Virginia. You are correct to assume that they scan one frame at a time and that any speed correction or other editing or grading takes place after ingest. The file presented on the National Screening Room was not speed corrected.
Great home movie! Really liked the close up footage of the band members and color quality. I too attended Altamont as a 17 Year old. I took 2 three minute Super Eight reels of home movie footage from the vantage point of nearly the back of the show. We were sitting about 30 rows of people below a old school bus with a large North Vietnamese flag hanging on side of the bus. The reels have been sitting in a desk drawer for 50 years!
Send me the film. I can sync up recorded sound and sound effects. It’s what I do.
zowie, what a find!
Interesting footage! I glad it’s seeing the light of day.
Without the sound I notice during the Stones performance on these reels that Jagger was smiling and grinning as if to not acknowledge the commotion going on in front of the stage. Those smiles faded quickly.
Keith Richards was the only one who pointed out to a Angel to stop it or “we ain’t playing “. This moment is also recorded on these reels.
Watching CSNY , The Flying Burritos Bros. and Santana footage confirm how crowded and disorganized the stage area was.
. Thank you!!
As the administrator of the Rolling Stones Data website I can’t help but congratulate Mr. Rick Prelinger and the Library of Congress for this great historical piece! Thanks so much again!
I don’t think this is a “home movie” at all. I think it is raw footage from one of the cameras shooting for the Maysles.
Thanks, it was really interesting x
At 10:22 of the video those flying objects were plastic coffee can lids. We hitchhiked there and in the guys van were bags full of lids. We were far up the hill and started flying the frisbees into the crowd. We were so far away couldn’t see or hear much and left after the Stones second song to hitchhike back to the City.
This is fascinating, particularly as there is no sound. Marty Balin temporarily disappears from the footage of the Jefferson Airplane, and it must have been then that he was reportedly twice knocked unconscious by Hells Angels (once in the crowd when he jumped down to stop an altercation, another backstage). Somehow he returned in time for the band’s final number, “Volunteers.”
I was shooting at dead center of the front of the stage that whole day… I have stills of these groups taken from stage level.. I am also in the Maysles’ film…to the point… this was shot by a pro…. quite possible George Lucas who was there shooting that day… this was well before his features came out… and this footage has been edited… somewhere there is original 16mm (probably sync) footage of this… I see where Palmer’s offices were at 611 Howard St… that is not far from where Francis Coppola had his studio… and Lucas worked out of there…
What a great spot to film that day! Passing along your observations to our restoration team.
I have to agree w/ Jay Rosenstein that this does not appear to be “home-made” at all. The operator has stage access and freedom to move about in the middle of chaotic activity.
Love it nonetheless, but the source needs a little more investigation.
Passing this along to our preservation team!
Any more early SANTANA film footage etc in your archives? Thank you Jim
Good God Santana is annoying!
this was not shot by the maysles crew. they were not shooting 8mm. plus whoever shot this only shot short segments, like news. the stage for this event was only 2-3 feet high, it was shot in the crowd at the stage. the cameraperson was not moving around, stationary on the left in daytime, on the right for the stones. the stones stuff is shaky and wrong film stock for night. lucas was shooting with a real long prime lens from up on a hill. maysles could not edit any of this into their film, except for crowd shots and tight faces. the stones footage is useless for commercial use. there are also several audience recordings of most of the sets, but you can’t sync anything up to short segments. the question is did maysles record all the acts entirely and or is there pa audio. bob matthews recorded the stones with the dead’s 16 track recorder, but that might never get out. alot of people think it was the stones best show ever.
Many thanks to LOC, the archivists and technicians for their work at preserving this piece of history. I’m a lifelong Stones fan, but also love Santana, CNSY and Gram Parsons. There’s so little footage of Gram out there, so any glimpse of him at work is priceless.
There is still much unseen footage from Gimmie Shelter, the Maysles covered it like a blanket. The special cd box set release of Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out includes a 45 minute film that’s made up of footage from the NYC photo shoot with Charlie and the Donkey, more from the Garden Show, and the Stones hanging out with the Grateful Dead on a roof (among other things.) It’s a great comprehensive little film in it’s own right and relatively separated from the tragic circumstances that arose at Altamont, focusing mainly on NYC. The 1969 tour was largely a successful and happy experience for the band, but of course all this gets largely forgotten due to the disastrous nature of this event.
They did shoot other acts as well. Some folks I know were blessed with a private screening with Albert at his cinema, where he showed unseen footage including a complete version of Midnight Rambler.
In short, I am always in awe of the men and women who work to preserve our cinematic heritage. Whether restoring silent classics or a rock and roll fans forgotten home movies, this work is vital to world culture. If anyone is hiring I’d like to join the team. My career built around live performance has suffered quite a bit over the last two years, lol.
Can’t wait to watch this, thank you SO much! To “Redman” – Maybe not the best performance ever since it’s interrupted several times and one of those for a murder but you rightfully bring up a point that’s oft overlooked – it’s a tragedy of it’s own that the gig went so south when the Stones really did sound better than they ever did that day on the ’69 tour.
I appreciate being add to this blog .
Also l am interested in getting in touch with
M Moore . He was at this gig ..
Thanks very much ..
My friend , Hal Ball and I shot our film class final there, at least 2 maybe 3 reels of 16mm with a Bolex on a rifle stock. He climbed up a scaffold when the Stones came on and shot some similar footage. When we realized he might have footage of the skuffle we went to KGO where the developed the film and ran it for the execs at the station. When it got to the “skuffle” it went dark as he had failed to open the shutter. They handed us frsh film and told us “better luck next time”
Wow ! Hit A vain of Classic Rock Gold !
What incredible insight into the end of an era. The ultimate bookends of Rock, Woodstock and Altamont.
It is so unfortunate the sound is missing from this footage. I can only imagine the music flowing out over the crowd.
Thank you thank you thank you Library of Congress! Amazing footage. I suspect who shot this will rage into the night. INTERESTING to hear that Bob of Bob and Betty has some first generation 16 channel sound of this show. Was Bear involved or present? I guess I know the answer myself. Allegedly the acid at this show was really bad. I am led to believe. really great shots and good closeups!
I can’t hear so good.
Amazing footage. So happy to see this.
What I’ve always wondered is what footage didn’t make it into Gimme Shelter. I wish the Maysles’ studio would release everything they filmed that day.
Great observations redman! Good points all. I definitely did not mean to imply the Maysles shot this footage for use in their documentary, rather that someone with some connection to them, the promoters, bands, etc., had some kind of unencumbered clearance, as there in no sign of them being hassled in an extremely contentious environment. That said, it could certainly have been a very fortunate or cleverly deceptive individual. A news reporter-type could make sense…if 8mm was viable at that time, or if they just had a press pass and recorded for personal use only. Intriguing nevertheless.
Audience recordings (some very good ones) do reveal a very good performance by the Stones. It would be wonderful to one day get to hear the recordings you mention.
I’ve never forgotten the coffee can lids. We were so high and just couldn’t get over how many there were and how they must have gotten there. We were so far back the music was secondary to the spectacle.
Csny never did allow there live performances out on film having not heard them live raw were they bad !!
Ominously ending with a flaming fire in the final frames.
My son will grow up to be a juvenile delinquent.
Amazing footage! It doesn’t even need sound to be cool ✌
Very interesting and well presented blog. I agree with Jay Rosenstein. Given the similarity with the Maysles footage, it looks like second unit work. No home movie quality; outtakes of Gimme Shelter more likely.
It looks like the work of a second unit. Maysles filmed the main event; Charlotte Zwerin is billed as second director. The footage looks a lot like that shot by Maysles. In capturing a big show like Altamont it stands to reason that the Maysles bros opted for a second unit just to be on the safe side.
Wow! Before viewing, I was curious to see if the crazy, out of his mind on acid guy, would be on the vid. Yep! Sure enough, at the 20:00 mark he appears. He is just a couple of feet away from Jagger, and Jagger doesn’t even flinch! Amazing video find! I was 11yo and in the 6th grade when this was filmed.
We know where the mystery person stood to shoot most of the movie. There’s enough other videos and photos to cross reference to see who it was. Other than the bands, my guess is to have that much access to the stage it might have been a Hells Angel or someone working for them. Anyone else on the stage would have been assaulted by the Hell’s Angels. After one of the Hell’s Angels murdered a man, this movie would have been indicting evidence against the Hell’s Angels and to who ever returned to pick it up.
A discussion here with first hand accounts:
Many think the Stones may have cut their performance short due to all the violence and unrest – and the relatively short screen time they’re given for the Maysles bros. film ‘Gimme Shelter’ – but they did in fact play a full set – here is the full setlist ..
At Altamont Speedway Free Festival
Tracy, California USA
Dec 6, 1969
Rolling Stones Setlist;
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
Carol (Chuck Berry cover)
Sympathy for the Devil (Interrupted by numerous fights near the stage – causing the band to stop – then restart the song)
The Sun Is Shining (Jimmy Reed cover)
Stray Cat Blues
Love in Vain (Robert Johnson cover)
Under My Thumb (Stopped following the fracas involving Meredith Hunter – then restarted – after this the violence subsided for the remainder of the concert)
Brown Sugar (live debut – studio version had been recorded just 2 days earlier in Muscle Shoals, Alabama)
Live With Me (The scene in the film showing a naked woman attempting to climb onto the stage actually occurs during this song – but it is shown while “Sympathy for the Devil” is played. The performance of the song is also faintly heard in the background as the medical intern talks about Meredith Hunter’s death)
Little Queenie (Chuck Berry cover)
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Honky Tonk Women
Street Fighting Man
This made my morning. Actually the comments regarding the found film are really thought provoking! Clearly some tuned in film folk!
Anyone know who is the guitar player with the Gibson ES-355 at about 5 minutes?
I would imagine using the Mayles’s original footage you might be able to pinpoint the original videographer. It would also then then be extremely easy to say whether it was Lucas, Mayles’s crew or another. I highly doubt Lucas. For numerous reasons.
Later that day I saw CSN&Y at Pauley Pavilion at UCLA with Taj Mahal opening. It was an incredibly intense show. That went until someone, I think Stills, fell down. How’s that for a long day?
My friends and I drove up to San Francisco when we were in high school, from LA.
It was an amazing experience for a 17 year old. We were crazy about the Stones and couldn’t miss them for free.
Thanks for digging this up
It’s too bad that “sneaky” Pete Kleinow died on Jan. 6, 2007 because he may have had some insight on who took this film footage? He was the pedal steel player for the Flying Burrito Bros. yet he was also a stop motion cinema photographer who had worked on the 1959 “GUMBY” T.V. show and also the “Outer limits” T.V. show (prior to this Dec. 1969 concert footage).
So if this silent film was shot by professionals rather than your average citizen, he may have had some knowledge of other film producers etc. This possibly was somewhat professionally done with at least a tripod, otherwise there would be too much movement or shaking of the camera? Yet it is very important that the Smithsonian should try their hardest to find out who shot this film footage, so everything “outside” of the box should be looked into.
Just curious why the 8mm footage was transferred at 24 fps when silent 8mm footage is usually shot and projected at 18 fps?
As to those questioning that the film could be home movie footage due to the excellent access and vantage point shown – don’t forget the access the German Shepard dog had as it casually walked across the stage in front Mick Jagger during Sympathy for the Devil.
Also, I don’t think the filmmakers would have shot 8mm.
Can’t wait to see this synced up to the music someday.
Gibson at 5 minutes is Jorma Kaukonen.
Proof that General Hershy Bar was at Altamont!
Stunning. Hope someone adds contemporaneous, or near as, soundtrack.
Why is there no sound”???
That’s the way it was filmed, alas.
“Anyone know who is the guitar player with the Gibson ES-355 at about 5 minutes?” -> He is Jorma Kaukonen, Jefferson Airplane’s guitar player.
Any footage of G.P. is a treasure (even without sound). To see his idols, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, enjoying his music is terrific!
Priceless find! Thank you Library of Congress
Asking the Library of Congress, is the original footage on 8MM film? 8mm is casually mentioned in these posts but I could not confirm this from the LOC website. If true, this would point to it being amateur footage, not lost Maysles footage.
Also a note to those of you who are holding your own private photos and films, be it from Altamont or other historic concerts, to please have your holdings professionally transferred to digital and release it to a hungry public before we are all in our graves. I am a firm believer in archiving these items. Do not underestimate their historic value.
Funny though, I could hear Carlos Santana even though there was no sound.
It is also very possible that one of the “Hells Angels” was behind the camera filming this. There is a good bit of film from those years and that era or “home made movies” of the Angels themselves. Since the “Hells Angels” had a higher mortality rate than your average citizen, it might explain why the film was never picked up from the processors. Motorcycle accidents, drug overdoses, and violence took the lives of many members. Or it’s possible that after the fact, this member of the motorcycle gang never picked up the film from the processors because he feared the “fuzz” might be waiting to talk to him, and or he did not want the film being used as evidence against him and his mates in a possible courtroom? So the “LOC” should inquire if any of the ” H. Angels” from that era are still alive, as to the possibility that it was indeed one of their members who shot the film footage.
Thanks LOC for this.
2 – Patricia A Arsenault
I was also only 2 in 1969, but I did see the Stones that year. My hippy parents took me to Hyde Park. I have zero memory of it.
21 – Frank Maynes
I don’t know if it’s the same person you’re looking for but post 14 is by a M.Moore.
Thank you. This made my day. I was at the Stones MSG, NYC concert 1969. I was 12 years old. Haven’t missed a local concert since. Some folks go to Mecca, I go see the Stones.
Where is the sound?
What a find.
Is that a swastika hanging from Jorma’s necklace?
Seems to me that there are a lot of edits in the footage. Unusual for an 8mm home movie. The best one can usually expect is to “edit in the camera,” by simply turning it on and off, but this footage has more continuity than that.
Anyway, I enjoyed seeing it very much.
Thanks for sharing this. Really wonderful.
The ES-355 player @ 4:55 is Jorma Kaukonen.
I also question that the footage originated on 8mm or Super8 reversal. Even with careful digitization and restoration, I have a hard time believing the resolution would be this high (particularly 8mm). Given the light weight of 8/Super 8 cameras, the camera person would have to have been incredibly talented to zoom and frame with the steadiness you see in the footage. I suspect it was 16mm footage that was filmed double system sound, with the accompanying audio tape lost in the ether. Whether the camera person was hired by the Maysles for the gig?
Interesting discussion. I learned today that the Maysles bros hired multiple camera teams for Altamont because the terrain was so big. Also they used 8mm film before for other productions.The suggestion that a Hells Angel shot these images strikes me as implausible; those guys were busy with other things as Gimme Shelter documents so well.
Responding to comment by Steve Freitas: It is highly unlikely that there was a North Vietnamese flag flying that day. The North Vietnamese flag was barely known in the United States. However, the flag of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (known in the United States as the Viet Cong) was a common sight. In fact, an attendee ran down the aisle with an NLF – Viet Cong flag at the Stones concert I attended in Madison Square Garden in November 1969.
Be interesting to find out if the film is by the curly-haired fellow in the far lower right corner of the cover shot here from The New Yorker:
The footage of the Burrito Bros in Gimme Shelter was always so tantalising, or frustrating. To see Mick and Keith backstage watching Gram in the foreground (and to actually see him performing) is just fantastic.
At 09.22 you can see he’s singing Lazy Days: “Now, isn’t it better, didn’t you know…” and at 09.34: “It’s a crazy day…”
Just turned 22, three shipmates (USN) and I drove down the day before we were to deploy to Vietnam. Entered to the left of the stage just before the main group of Angels arrived.In the aftermath, lost my car, we had to hitch back to Alameda and just made it in time to sail. Never saw the car again, still remember this show like it was yesterday.
What a great story!
Quite interesting to view, as I was there that day…so bloody cold, all day long!
Came here to see Gram Parsons, seems the camera person was more interested in capturing Jagger’s reaction. A real gem nonetheless.
I did an audio sync for this film.
Among other songs it contains a good portion of “Stray Cat Blues” (nearly 3 minutes).
Not sure about the best way to share this clip, though…
I found him! I did a Google search of Altamont concert photos and was able to pinpoint him with the Super8 camera. You can find him/it online too. He’s easy to pick out at stage right with long, curly, light brown hair. The Super8 camera clearly identifiable, especially when comparing three other 35mm still cameras nearby. All very visible too. The videographer is at the correct angle and the Jefferson Airplane is clearly performing.
What I couldn’t do in a short amount of time was Google cross reference another photo for his face. But, clearly, that ain’t no George Lucas.
Maybe someone else can spend the time to do that. Cheers everyone.
Take a look at the associated NYT article with photos. Look at the guy who is carrying what looks like a super 8 camera and is 2 or 3 people away from Jagger as he is being guided by the only uniformed cops in any of the photos. Might this be the individual who had access and a camera to film this event? Just a thought.
The comments about being shot on a tripod are on the right track although in other photos and film of the event there is no tripod filming seen. The individual filming wouldn’t have been able to get the longer steady shots without something to brace the camera against given the ongoing chaos and movement that is apparent on the stage throughout the day. Interesting piece of material but the real gem is the pile of film and soundtrack that was left on the cutting room floor from Gimme Shelter. How about releasing the balance of the Stones performance and add in the Gram Parsons footage from the Maysles outtakes. There must be hours of great material from that day.
I was there–nowhere near the stage, thank goodness. It was one of the worst days of my life and one of the best. It was definitely the coldest day of my life.
It would be nice if someone could come up with the audio from these performances to add to the film footage.
I have always been curious about the soundtrack. For the movie “Gimme Shelter” the song of the same name (played at the end of the movie) is from the Altamont show and obviously from the soundboard.
For those interested in the movie details and how it came about, I recommend reading “Just a Shot Away” by Saul Austerlitz. The book is well researched and goes into great detail regarding the fact that the Maysles did not have a release by the Stones at the time of taping, dealing with the police and the Hells Angels (both who wanted the film) and how Jagger eventually agreed to its release etc.
Sadly, I think that the footage of the MSG shows and the balance of the Altamont show found their way to the cutting room floor and were discarded.
Love the observations in the comment chat – cheers
I just saw this footage and was immediately transported back to 1969. I arrived at Altamont the night before. We were in the early group and found parking not so far away and went to sleep. When we woke up there was already a stream of people walking past us and we joined them, it was still early so we were able to find a spot near the bus. The footage is amazing even without the sound, and I could see the area where we were. Watching it this morning brought back all the memories and for that I am grateful. I worked as a contractor at the LOC in the late 90s, I worked on the first prototype digital repository and my LOC contact was Carl Fleischhauer and this morning I saw his comment up above and it made this all the more meaningful. It was one of best projects I ever worked on. Hello to Carl and best to you, and thank you to the Library for sharing this with all of us.
@WOOD, post 65: I think you got it right, it likely is that curly haired guy filming; the frizzy hair of the person in front him can been seen in the film during Jefferson Airplane, as in the photo you linked to. Well spotted!
Please send a link to your sync’ed Stray Cat Blues!
I also learned that the Maysles requested/encouraged local Bay area film-makers to take cameras to the raceway, film whatever they could of the event and send the footage to the Maysles to be included (possibly) in the final cut of Gimme Shelter.
Thanks so much for posting this film. I am always interested in stuff way back when during my Hippie Days. Keep up the great work that you all do and thanks again for sharing to the public.
Absolutely amazing footage. Really made my day seeing these performances. Seeing Gram Parson was a particular treat. What else could be hidden away?
I’d far rather listen to any unreleased audio tape from Altamont – than a random bunch of semi-chronological chunks of video. Might as well be a bunch of still photos.
Someone should add sound…It’s been done on silent footage from the 19th century. A good sound editor could manage this. Great footage!
Glad to see that this silent color footage became public after many years. Thanks to all involved.
One of the 300k great to see the end still alive
I was at the concert.i got there on friday.Sat. morning,everyone was crowding around the speedway
.There was portable fencing surrounding the entrance to the speedway,and people were trying to push there way through.I looked and saw no speaker towers,so made my way around and over the hill behind,and there was the stage.The school bus was to the right of the stage,which later had some Hell’Angels on top.I also remember the helicopter flying in some music acts…all in all,a great concert