Library of Congress Releases Lost Footage From Iconic Rolling Stones Concert

by Liz Holland
(Photo by J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images)

The Library of Congress has recovered nearly a half-hour of never before seen 8mm footage of the Rolling Stones and other iconic artists. The film shows footage from the Altamont Speedway Free Festival. The festival was described as a “counterculture rock concert.” The Altamont Speedway in Northern California hosted the December 1969 event. Unfortunately, someone stabbed an attendee during the Stones’ set. It was this moment that ensured the show went down in history. Around 300,000 people attended the concert that featured artists like Crosby, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Stills, and more. 

The recovered footage was amongst 200,000 reels of unclaimed film. An archivist originally purchased the film in question back in 1996. Now, the Library of Congress has published the footage on their website. The film is silent and obscenely low quality by today’s standards. There was a documentary crew at the concert shooting footage for the film “Gimme Shelter.”

However, based on the quality of the shots, it seems unlikely that this newly discovered footage came from someone on that documentary crew. 

Home Movie Shows 60s Rock Legends Backstage

The sections of footage that show the Rolling Stones’ nighttime set are pretty cloudy and difficult to make out what’s happening. It also doesn’t show any moments related to the stabbing that made the Stones’ set such a historical moment. However, there’s plenty of daytime footage that is reminiscent of a home movie. 

The 25 minutes of footage will certainly pique the interest of any late 60s rock lovers. The film shows plenty of closeups of rock legends from that era. The footage includes peeks at several artists that weren’t visible in the “Gimme Shelter” film. It appears the cameraman was shooting from on stage or very close to the stage, as the footage showed many artists mid-performance or relaxing backstage. 

The two reels that are now available for public viewing are described on the Library of Congress blog as “an orphan work, in this case, abandoned at Palmer Labs by whoever shot it. They just never picked it up.”

The acquisition of the film reels dates back to 1996. It was then that an archivist by the name of Rick Prelinger purchased 200,000 reels of film. 

Technician Discovers Rolling Stones Film Among Thousands of Reels

Prelinger made the purchase from Palmer Labs, a San Francisco film processing company that was going out of business, prompting the purchase from Prelinger. The Library of Congress purchased the collection in 2002. At the time, the Library said it would “would take several years… to provide access to these films.”

The film is still being sorted through 20 years later.

According to the post on the Library of Congress blog, a technician discovered the two reels of 8mm footage with writing on the film leader that read, “Stones in the Park.” Head of the Moving Image Section, Mike Mashon, thought it may be a home movie of a ‘69 Stones concert in Hyde Park. However, after the digitization process, it was discovered it was actually footage from Altamont that featured several acts from the bill. “Although the footage is silent,” Mashon writes,” we were all thrilled to see close-up footage of concert performers who were cut from the (Maysles brothers’) film….Even better, there are good shots of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards off-stage watching [Gram Parsons, frontman of Flying Burrito Brothers] perform!”

The identity of who shot the footage is unknown. You can check it out here.