Some scenes in movies haunt you forever, especially when encountered at an impressionable age. Very late in Gimme Shelter, Mick Jagger and Keith Richard watch—and re-watch—a gruesome bit of footage that Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin shot at the Rolling Stones/Jefferson Airplane concert at Altamont Speedway in early December, 1969. The documentary spends a lot of time in S.F. lawyer Melvin Belli’s office, eavesdropping on the blunt negotiations leading to the now-infamous free show. But the great, crushing moment of revelation captured in this essential film occurs well after the concert, as Keith and Mick stare silently and helplessly at a small monitor in an editing room.
Gimme Shelter parts the curtain on Please help me I am drownding: San Francisco’s Dark Decade (May 24–27 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts), a five-film immersion in the high-profile death and chaos that afflicted the Bay Area in the '70s. The Maysles doc is a certified classic but Patty Hearst, Paul Schrader’s unappreciated 1988 reenactment of the kidnapping and political awakening of the teenage granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst (himself the inspiration for a movie you may have heard of, Citizen Kane) and future muse and pal of John Waters, is nearly forgotten. It deserves a fresh look.
The series includes David Fincher’s grimy 2007 thriller, Zodiac, which devotes a lot of time, money and care to recreating early-'70s San Francisco. Better yet, check out the creepy 1971 quickie The Zodiac Killer, shot on 16mm, which filmmaker Tom Hanson hoped would lure the titular murderer into a theater where he could be caught. It was far from the worst idea anybody had during that jittery, paranoid period.