New York — The Rolling Stones’ Altamont movie should be out in September or October, and the musicians will give it all away. Their profits will go to an as-yet-unspecified charity, or will be put back into the hip community through any number of good works.
In fact, according to David Maysles, who’s making the film with his brother Al, that’s one of the things holding up the film. The Stones, the Maysles Brothers, and Jefferson Airplane are demanding that whichever film company distributes the film also kick back at least some of its profit.
“If we can’t get a favorable deal, we’ll distribute it ourselves,” David promised. “We all want that; we’d like not to feed the system if possible. We’ve all learned something from Woodstock, not that we didn’t really know it before, but we don’t want to exploit, we don’t want to charge those kinds of prices, we want people to see what we think is a strong, strong film.
“Mick feels it’s very important that the film should be distributed with great discretion and taste. We’ve talked with several majors, and the problem has been a strong confrontation of what we want on advertising and promotion, so it doesn’t get sensationalized, and ticket prices, so people can afford to see it,” he continued.
At one point, it looked as though Universal had the deal cinched up. According to David, they’re still among the front-runners, but “nothing is definite until the money is up.”
He added: “The problem is in trying to deal with the old ways. The film companies have had it their way for so long, they really have trouble seeing it any other way, just because when you’re in something for so long, it’s hard to see the other side. When you explain it to them, they begin to understand, because in a way they’ve been putting money back into communities all along.”
According to Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner, the Airplane has told the Maysles and Stones they wouldn’t allow themselves to be in the movie unless the proceeds did go to charity. The film has a five-minute sequence with the Airplane at Altamont which the Maysles told the Airplane was a “focal point” for their conception of that black day.
Shortly thereafter, the Airplane received a telegram from Jagger which stated that the Stones wanted the Airplane sequence to remain in the film, and that the Stones didn’t want to make any money off the movie anyhow. While the Airplane was in England this summer, Mick dropped by a rehearsal, they discussed the idea of film profits, and Paul and Grace Slick paid Mick a visit at his house.
“He’s a nice, warm, honest cat,” Paul reported, “And he said it was no hassle about the bread because they didn’t particularly want any money from the movie but they did definitely want it shown. The money is superfluous to them; they aren’t hassled by that at all.
“At first, we didn’t want to be in the film at all; what changed our minds was seeing the film itself. It’s the best film that’s ever been made of a rock and roll group, just because the songs are so good, they’re played so well, and they’re filmed and recorded so well. Any way the Maysles put that film together, they can’t fuck it up,” Kantner raved.
So after seeing the film while in New York on tour, the Airplane decided they definitely wanted to be included, with the only source of contention being what happens with all the money it will undoubtedly make. When the Stones agreed that that would be no problem, it was time to get down to some serious talking about prospects.
“At first we weren’t trusting them because we weren’t sure of Allen Klein. We wanted to talk to them, get it straight ourselves, and Klein was one of the things in the way. When the Stones said, ‘We’d like to find something to do with the money,’ we were uncertain. With Klein we didn’t know what they meant by a charitable organization — maybe it meant the Allen Klein Retirement Fund.
“But Klein didn’t enter the film situation at all, so we were satisfied. Mick has integrity; no problem with that. We haven’t decided exactly where we’ll give the money yet, we’ve just agreed we won’t keep it and left it at that, trusted it would work out pleasantly, and everyone would do what they said they’d do. We’re working now to get the movie company to do the same, and nobody’s asking them to do anything ridiculous; even a token gesture would be OK. They don’t have to give away all their money. Like, they could build playgrounds or swimming pools,” Kantner suggested.
The film itself, says David, is now having the finishing touches put on it. The working title is Love In Vain, though that may change. It’s a 95-minute documentary of the Stones’ American tour, half of which deals with Altamont. “Emotionally, a good deal more than half of it is Altamont; you can’t measure things like that,” David says.
“It’s very brave of the Stones to go along with this, because the situation in California was very negative. The film is not a shocker, but’s a very heavy film, full of lots of meanings, very sensitive, subject to lots of interpretations. It’s consistent with what the Rolling Stones represent, in two words, no bullshit, the honest feeling you get from all their songs,” he added.
“We thought it was a pretty weird idea to make a film of this until we saw the film,” Kantner recalls. “I mean, a guy got killed, the Angels got it off . . . But this film shows what did happen; and it shows everybody’s inability to deal with the fact that somebody got killed. I think it’ll probably have a positive effect in that everybody will see the negative that went down.”
“Mick hasn’t said a lot about Altamont, but the film says a lot and he’s part of the film both as an ‘actor’ and as an advisor. The film can maybe speak for him. ‘Gimme Shelter’ is prophetic. We were all thinking it was a pretty safe world, and Altamont made me realize how out of touch I was at least,” stated David. “There really wasn’t anything for Mick to say.
“As for what everybody else is saying about that day, Mick really didn’t know what was happening, with the Angels and everything. The film clearly shows he couldn’t possibly have seen the murder. The people that have popped off have fed a lot of misinformation, and Mick didn’t pop off because he didn’t want to contribute to that situation. ‘Gimme Shelter’ is very appropriate. Listen to Mick imploring the audience there between songs. His spontaneous speeches are very sensitive, moving, and intelligent. The film tries to say what happened at Altamont the same way the Stones say what’s happening in their songs. The Stones will be respected for this film, rather than criticized the way they were.”
Mick, however, can obviously speak for himself, and here’s what he has to say about that day and the film that came out of it:
“Like I’ve seen 100 different versions with 100 different endings. My first reaction was just total horror. It was awful. Nevertheless, I’ve been trying to abstract myself from it . . . which has only been possible about 50 percent of the time.
“There are lots of things I could say I don’t like about it. But I didn’t make the film. I made some suggestions. Like it was very slow in parts. Boring. I made suggestions in terms of logic . . . I picked certain shots. There were a lot of different cameras on one scene. I picked one camera. It was when we were doing ‘Little Queenie,’ and there’s one shot. It’s really incredible. I found it, I put it in.
“What can you say, it’s so hard-hitting. It’s their film. It was just so unpleasant to watch. Does anyone want to see it? I mean, I’m not going to rush around, collecting people for a party, for the premiere.
“The thing is, in this kind of film, you make anyone look like what you want them to look like — you know, someone yawning — you put in that yawn at a certain point — and it’s given a whole emotional meaning that may not have been there at all. ‘Documentary’ films aren’t real anymore. They’re no more real than a story film. You can make it a vehicle for anything you want.
“By editing, by cutting, the Maysles have made it a very personal film. It’s their film. It doesn’t have anything to do with us anymore.
“I saw the rough cut ages ago. The first time, like, you come out shaking. I didn’t have the same feeling when I was at Altamont, and I didn’t relive it in the film. I saw it in the film. It’s the weirdest film I’ve seen in a long time. You can make it into anything you want.
“I don’t know if it’s fair. I don’t think fair play was the Maysles’ idea in making the film. I think the idea was just to make a film. Certain things are unfair to certain people. Not us. Other people. Just by changing a few seconds, they’ve established ‘that’s what this guy thinks.’ But, in fact, it’s not.
“But there are things in that film that even I didn’t know were going on. Like everyone behaves in the same way. Like when the Angels came on heavy, everyone just tries to cool them out, the same way, and they can’t.
“I can’t be objective about the film, whether it’s a good film or a bad film.”
This is a story from the September 3, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.