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DVD/Video/Film Reviews

The Grateful Dead Movie: 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

By Published: January 8, 2005
Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead Movie: 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
Grateful Dead Productions
2004

Grateful Dead Productions have set the standard for music-related DVD packages. From the unsurpassed audio and video quality of the content itselfto the special features of the discs that make interactivity fun, then on to the plethora of special features such as animation and photo galleries, the sum total of the various disc menus illuminate the process of production of the package as well as the event itself. You could not get more for your money than what you receive when you purchase The Closing of Winterland or more recently, The Grateful Dead Movie.

In retrospect, Jerry Garcia could not have imagined how important this project would become when he originally envisioned it as the chronicle of what might have been, at the time in 1974, the final Dead shows ever. Even though that did not turn out to be the case, this period is, with hindsight, one of the most fruitful musical phases in this epochal band's career: all cylinders were firing, as Garcia himself was hale and hearty, Bob Weir is at the top of his game as musician and composer, and the band, navigated by the deceptively snappy drumming of Bill Kreutzmann (alone since the departure of Mickey Hart, who would return as a guest on the last night of this particular Winterland run), kept perfect balance between the economy the band learned during the Workingman's Dead period and the exploratory leanings of their earliest days.

Fascinating as it is to watch the concert footage, both as part of the film and as bonus footage, you can't help but be moved to get yourself the five-cd set of music taken from this five-night October run at Bill Graham's converted skating rink in San Francisco.

Perhaps because it was one of the Dead's favorite venues, their performances are, without exception, superb, captured and remixed digitally in resounding clarity by Jeffery Norman; from the booming bass of Phil Lesh to the imaginative rhythm fills from Weir to the hallucinatory edge of Garcia's own distinctive guitar work (played off deliciously with Keith Godchaux' piano) and Kreutzmann's unceasingly rhythmic insistence, you are hearing a great rock and roll band in all its glory.

Pay special attention to the "Drums/Space" interludes, where the quintet forsakes structure: in contrast to being inserted in the set just for effect as in latter day Dead (including this year's lineup, where the drummers too often appeared just to be fooling around), these dissonant interludes create a real effect of displacement (as opposed to disorientation) for the listener. As with another five-disc Grateful Dead collection, So Many Roads, the jams are as interesting, if not more so, than the formal songs themselves: Hear the patient segue into "Dark Star" and its own improvisational course that leads to "Morning Dew." You can't help but be impressed with the clarity of the stereo separation (which is not to mention the 5.1 Dolby digital mix), not to mention the depth of the production mix itself as you listen, which makes absolutely fascinating, even if you are not technically minded, Jeffrey Norman's explanation of the painstaking process he followed to sculpt this great sound.

Along those same lines, chief Dead archivist David Lemieux's insight into the creation of The Grateful Dead Movie DVD is equally enthralling. It's one thing to hear a verbal recounting of the conception of the package in terms of choosing footage and assembling it from the master film reels now over thirty years old. It's quite another to watch Lemieux viewing the footage during the editing phase, making handwritten notes to guide himself along in the process.

The painstaking effort was worth it, though, and the fruits of the labor extend far beyond the movie itself. For its part, the combination of the primary performance footage with audience shots and the animation (a nod to the Beatles' Yellow Submarine no doubt) goes a long ways in creating the mood of a Dead show of the time, that's part, whimsy, part abandon. The loyalty shown the band by the Deadheads in attendance is in direct proportion to the group's loyalty to its audience: if the Dead could be accused of being lackadaisical, this tribute to their scene gives the lie to it. Thankfully bereft of special effects that would've effectively dated the film and, by extension the band and its followers, the recurring sights of fans, in both rapt attention and seemingly absent-minded presence (roller-skating through the concessions area), not to mention wide-angle shots of the Winterland crowd during the concerts, achieves the desired effect of communicating how much mutual pleasure was being shared during such shows.

The Grateful Dead were never long on stage presence, but this works to their advantage in this two-disc set. There's a unique drama in observing a group of musicians focused and concentrated not just on the music their playing individually, but also as the individual players work to forge a collective bond, as on "The Other One," that can elevate the music to a higher level altogether: frames of the quintet shot from stage left, capturing the band lined up across the stage, says more than many an analysis can offer in terms of talking about the tight alignment of purpose and productivity, not to mention spontaneity.

It's arguable the best way to explore this package is to begin with the second DVD as a sort of introduction to the main feature of The Grateful Dead Movie proper. Scanning the photo gallery, watching the short cartoon promos for the Mars Hotel album and partaking of the musicians' interviews—Bill Kreutzmann is extremely well-spoken in his good-humored, down-to-earth manner—offers the added pleasure of the active access to these features through the menu.

As with the movie's aim to create the ambiance of a Grateful Dead concert, the dynamics of this DVD package, where virtually everything thing has a dynamic of its own, and nothing is really as static as it might seem (no matter how slowly and gently Garcia leads the band through "Stella Blue") conjure up a series of pleasurable sensations, each unique and valid from its own perspective, and in the context of the whole. The phrase "Good ol' Grateful Dead" has never rung more true.

Visit Grateful Dead on the web.


Tracks:
CD #1: US Blues; One More Saturday Night; China Cat Sunflower> I Know You Rider; Eyes of the World> China Doll; Playing In The Band
CD #2: Scarlet Begonias; He's Gone> Jam> Weirdness> The Other One> Spanish Jam> Mind Left Body Jam> The Other One> Stella Blue; Casey Jones
CD #3: Uncle John's Band; Big Railroad Blues; Tomorrow Is Forever; Sugar Magnolia> He's Gone> Caution Jam> Drums> Space> Truckin'> Black Peter; Sunshine Daydream
CD #4: Weather Report Suite; Jam> Dark Star> Morning Dew; Not Fade Away> Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad> Soundcheck
CD #5: Playing In The Band> Drums> Not Fade Away> Drums> The Other One> Wharf Rat> Playing In The Band; Johnny B. Goode; Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo> We Bid You Goodnight.

Personnel: Jerry Garcia: lead guitar and vocals;Bob Weir: rhythm guitar and vocals; Phil lesh: bass and vocals; Bill Kreutzmann: drums; Mickey hart: drums(cd five only); Keith Godchaux: piano; Donna Jean Godchaux: vocals



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