This feature-length film was shot during the Grateful Dead's so-called "retirement run" of shows at Winterland Arena in San Francisco during mid-October 1974 -- after which the band was to take an extended sabbatical from touring North America. Under the direction of the band's lead guitarist, Jerry Garcia, and cinematographer, Leon Gast, The Grateful Dead Movie is equal measures of cinematic rockumentary and concert film -- much in the same vein as Woodstock or Monterey Pop. As the band's future was uncertain during the ensuing months and ultimately years, the initial plan was to capture both the Dead and the Deadheads in their environment and otherwise natural state of being. However, the film reveals infinitely more than that. On a sociological level, The Grateful Dead Movie examines several different facets of the original Deadhead phenomenon. First and foremost are the live musical performances -- which the film is structured around. Then there are the ardent and dedicated enthusiasts -- portrayed in the hours, days, and weeks prior to the shows -- doing what they do best, being themselves. Somewhat sporadically depicted is the behind-the-scenes road crew, the conduit between the band, the music, and ultimately the audience. The copious musical performances examine the multiplicity in the Grateful Dead's repertoire. Shorter and self-contained pieces such as "One More Saturday Night," "U.S. Blues," and "Casey Jones" are juxtaposed with the longer and more involved "Playing in the Band" and "Eyes of the World." One of the most memorable features of The Grateful Dead Movie is the opening sequence by Garry Gutierrez. The extended segment features a Harley-riding skeleton and is a study in the simultaneous use of stop as well as hand-drawn animation. The vivid imagery and use of the band's various psychedelic concert posters and album cover artwork also lend a surreal effect to the cartoon. Enthusiasts interested in what all the excitement was/is about during live Grateful Dead performances can find no stronger cinematic contact buzz than this film.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer