The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead Movie
[Rating: 4 Stars]
Relentless touring and nightly construction of the Wall of Sound (the band’s legendary PA system) cost The Grateful Dead their energy and stamina by the mid ’70s. If the wear-and-tear produced one good thing, it was the 1977 documentary, co-directed by Jerry Garcia himself, featuring their last pre-hiatus performances: five 1974 shows at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom.
Gary Gutierrez created the feature’s animated intro in which the Dead skeleton is Uncle Sam, bedecked in American flag tailcoat and top hat, dancing to “U.S. Blues” before seguing into the concert. Spectacular close-up shots capture Donna Jean Godchaux, who joined Garcia and Bob Weir on vocals, and Garcia fingering the frets in the loose, improvisational style that made no two Dead shows alike.
Almost three hours of additional concert footage, photos and interviews comprise the bonus disc, including exceptional renditions of “Scarlet Begonias” and “China Cat Sunflower.” In the “A Look Back” segment, the band’s road-weariness is evident; lyricist John Barlow says to the camera, “What’s the point of being the greatest rock and roll band in the world if it’s also a pain in the ass?”
Some of the most compelling shots are candid moments with the Deadheads spliced throughout the feature. Fans are filmed trying to sneak into the venue, discussing why they love the Dead, dancing with a mouthful of roses and tossing them at the stage. As much a part of the “family” as the band and crew, they impress that The Grateful Dead was, and still is, a massive piece of rock iconography.