PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


'The Grateful Dead Movie': It Looked Like the end and Garcia and Co. Played Like It Was

With improved sound and a clearer image in Blu-Ray format, the viewer gets a stronger sense of the full majesty of musicians staring into the face of fear in an hour of darkness.

The Grateful Dead Movie

Blu-Ray/DVD: The Grateful Dead Movie
Cast: Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Bill Graham, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Donna Godchaux, Keith Godchaux, Bill Kreutzmann.
Directors: Jerry Garcia, Leon Gast
Rated: N/R
Distributor: Shout! Factory
Release Date: 2011-11-01

When the Grateful Dead rolled into San Francisco in October 1974 the group had reached a crisis. Having built a monstrous sound system, The Wall of Sound System, that cost more in manpower and energy than the organization could truly afford, a hiatus, which would allowed for crew members to seek other employment and for the band to get back on its feet financially, was in order. During the quintet of gigs filmed for this movie, at San Francisco’s Winterland, there was the suspicion/fear that these gigs might be the group’s last.

The Blu-Ray release of the 1977 feature The Grateful Dead Movie is a welcome addition to this widely documented band. With improved sound and a clearer image. the viewer gets a stronger sense of the full majesty of musicians staring into the face of fear in an hour of darkness. It’s also one of the more coherent rock pictures from the era. There are no unnecessary fantasy sequences (The Song Remains The Same) or bizarre backstage episodes (Baby Snakes). Instead, we get a pretty good performance film with glimpses of the crew and the Deadheads who have made the pilgrimage to Winterland.

The opening animation sequence has become the stuff of legend and rightfully so. It looks as trippy, vibrant, and original today as it must have back then and it lasts just long enough to properly build anticipation for the actual performance footage. And the performance footage? It’s the Dead in fine form. Garcia was doing some of the best lead guitar work of his career during this era and his solos and lines consistently enhance each of the tracks. (Garcia is one of those lead players whose failures sound remarkably like unqualified success, but he doesn’t fail here.)

Keyboardist Keith Godchaux and vocalist wife Donna had not yet worn out their welcome in the group (by 1978 their performances would be increasingly hard to take and one of the more divisive elements for GD fans); drummer Bill Kruetzmann was, by late ’74, accustomed to flying without his drum partner Mickey Hart who had been in a self-imposed exile since early 1971, and the sound of a one-drummer Dead has its charms. (Hart emerged from sidelines at the end of this San Francisco run to take his rightful place behind the drum throne, where he remained for the duration of the band.)

What the film also captures is the personalities of the band members. Those who have long been baffled/puzzled by vociferous praise for bassist Phil Lesh can see why. Lesh, as a performer and personality, is larger than life, entertaining, Technicolor personified. Garcia is remarkably understated, Kruetzmann alternately boyish and avuncular, Weir is a true one-of-a-kind.

A second disc (in DVD format) features more than 95 minutes of bonus concert footage, including “I Know You Rider”, “China Cat Sunflower” and “Sugaree”. A multitude of other options, including a retrospective short, an inside look at the animation sequence, and multicamera and multitrack audio demonstrations, round out the package. The Blu-Ray also offers feature-length commentary with supervising editor Susan Crutcher and film editor John Nutt.

For those of us who never had the chance to see the Dead in the concert setting, this is a good substitute, for those who did, this is a great reminder of the group’s long and impressive run.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.