Last year, Martin Scorsese released Shine a Light , the latest concert documentary to drape the Rolling Stones in glory and reverence. It was a compelling portrait of their onstage prowess, but to better understand this band's primal appeal and the brazen danger of their once-magnificent rock & roll, you have to go back to a nearly 40-year-old documentary that was far less fawning. Chronicling the band's November-December 1969 American tour, directors David Maysles, Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin construct their 1970 film Gimme Shelter like a philosophical whodunit. The tour (and the movie) ended with the band's fateful December 6 free show at Altamont, which resulted in the stabbing death of a concertgoer. In a brilliant stroke of postmodern narrative strategy, the filmmakers structure their story around scenes of them showing the Stones the documentary footage, creating the sense that the band members and the audience are experiencing Gimme Shelter at the same time, together trying to figure out how a seemingly triumphant tour could end so badly. What results is utterly gripping — even if you've seen the movie, the slow buildup to the Altamont finale generates tension and dread. Gimme Shelter is usually lauded for its spotlighting of the end of the 1960s peace-and-love euphoria, and while that's certainly accurate, no movie has ever given an audience a better sense of the carnal energy of a rock band at its druggy, cocky peak. The Stones survived Altamont and Gimme Shelter, but you can't watch the film and not be affected by Mick Jagger's haunted final glimpse of the footage. It's as if he knows that it's not just an era that's ending — the film also chronicles the moment rock's unbridled hedonism forever lost its innocence. The Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre, 611 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A.; Thurs., Sept. 17, 8 p.m.; $10. (323) 655-2510. –Tim Grierson

Thu., Sept. 17, 8 p.m., 2009

LA Weekly