Director Amir Bar-Lev has accomplished the impossible. His task was to create a documentary that encompassed all of the facets and angles that created, invigorated and surrounded not only an evolutionary rock band over 50 years, but their horde of tour family and endless supply of fans. I leave this film experience recognizing so much of my personal Dead Head past without having to chase reliving it from show to show.
The history: At the heart of this movie is the history of the Grateful Dead. Just seeing Jerry Garcia and the band in their energetic youth helps the later generation of fans experience them before age and excess had chipped away at the band. It's a documentary, and that's never lost on the film maker. The origins, the acid, the music, the band members, the myths, the travelings.... all explained without further internet search.
The interviews: Sam Culter (Tour manager 1970-1974) appears throughout (filmed outside his van) gives a consistently unique and uncompromising view that is can't miss stuff. Al Franken, Nick Paumgarten and Steve Silberman also give intelligent and hilarious insight to the Dead Head phenomena.
The editing: The documentary works best in it's editing of interviews as if they were an ongoing conversation, much like the bands' musical ideal. The timing of the introduction/insertion of specific songs (of which there are a plethora to choose from) is both uplifting and quite poignant. There are numerous slick vignettes that are almost Tarantino-like. The film moves at a meaningful pace as it covers 238 minutes
The music: Is it me or did I find alternative versions of songs without singing backing a good portion of the documentary? The earlier live practice footage with Jerry leading the are priceless. The studio versus live arguments (mainstream media versus organic growth) is covered throughout, which would be for those not yet initiated. Love the tapers section explained in detail. "These guys completely get me", is something the vast majority of Dead heads who felt unique must be saying about the film makers!
Jerry immortalized: If you had any doubts about who was the leader of the Grateful Dead, doubt no more. Jerry is portrayed as equally a cool dude, childishly idealistic, musically dedicated whose burden of being the leader of The Dead took it's toll. How could it not?
The fans: If you are streaming this on Amazon; Prime, it's Episode V. This is the best synopsis of "what the hell is going on" at a Grateful Dead show. I've tried to explain this to people over the decades, and everything I've attempted to extrapolate from my experience is here, as well as everything that someone with my limitations wouldn't be able to iterate. Wow, was that fun!
The ending: We all know that Jerry hasn't been of this world for decades and it simply hurt all over again. It's like your parents would rhetorically ask you, "Well, how'd you think this was all going to end?" At that point it's clear that this is really the Jerry Garcia story and there was no context to them talking about how the Grateful Dead experience continues.... and yet it does for many...
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