Santana Altamont
Carlos Santana - Home video footage. National Audio-Visual Conservation Center.

Nearly 30 minutes of unseen Altamont footage unearthed by Library of Congress (watch)

Altamont Free Concert, the disastrous Rolling Stones-presented-and-headlined California festival that is commonly referred to as a signifier of the death of the hippie moment, has been immortalized in the famed Gimme Shelter documentary, but apparently that doc isn’t the only footage of this iconic event that exists. The Library of Congress just unearthed nearly 30 minutes of never-before-seen footage of Altamont, including shots of the Stones, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards visible as spectators during The Flying Burrito Brothers’ set. There’s also shots of the Hells Angels, the motorcycle club who were hired to do security for the festival and were responsible for the death of audience member Meredith Hunter.

The film has no sound, but it’s still a treat to see all this footage, which includes shots of Santana and CSNY, who were cut from the Gimme Shelter film, and — even without sound — shows other sides of this long-told story. The Library of Congress blog post about the video reads:

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.

Read more here.