The Library of Congress last week revealed the acquisition of 26 minutes of silent 8mm film from the infamous Altamont Free Concert in Northern California on December 6th, 1969 at which four people died. The footage shows clips of The Rolling Stones; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Santana; The Jefferson Airplane; and The Flying Burrito Brothers performing.
The home movie-quality footage had a long journey from Altamont to the Library of Congress. According to a blog post from Mike Mashon of the Library, back in 1996, lauded archivist Rick Prelinger bought a collection of reels from a foreclosing San Francisco production company, Palmer Films. The collection hosted over 200,000 reels of film and, at the time a press release, optimistically predicted that it would “take several years before the Library will be in a position to provide access to these films.” Over 25 years later, archivists like Mashon are still sifting through reels.
The film released last week was originally labeled “Stones in the Park”. To Mashon, that translated to footage of The Rolling Stones’ famous concert in London’s Hyde Park on July 5th, 1969, or possibly film from the documentary of the same name chronicling the concert. Instead, archivists were shocked to find silent footage of the ill-fated event touted as “Woodstock West” that seemed to embody the imploding ethos of the ’60s.
History is about perspective. Although these reels don’t shine any new light on the killing of 18-year-old concertgoer Meredith Hunter at the hands of the Hell’s Angels who were hired as security, it shows a different side of Altamont seldom seen in Albert Maysles‘ 1970 documentary Gimme Shelter. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards watch Gram Parsons of The Flying Burrito Brothers from afar. Marty Balin of The Airplane shakes a tambourine (shortly before he was knocked out cold by a Hell’s Angel for running his mouth).
Even without sound, however, a pervasive feeling of tension feeds through the film as Angels manhandle fans—pushing them into the packed crowd that sits just a few inches below the makeshift stage. Following CSNY’s performance—which they didn’t allow Maysles to include in his documentary—the film makes a hard cut to the Stones’ nighttime concert. Jagger looks on nervously and does his best to keep his own cool, let alone the crowd’s, as Angels look on from the wings. In the final moments, the film abruptly cuts to a campfire before ending.
“Many people know the Gimme Shelter documentary pretty well, but there’s a lot more in this home movie,” Mashon wrote.
Watch the newly unearthed footage of Altamont from The Library of Congress via the player below. Check out Mashon’s full blog here.
Altamont Free Concert – Livermore, CA – 12/6/69