Long Strange Trip
Directed by Amir Bar-Lev
The long and unique tale of The Grateful Dead.
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★★★★★ review by Jurgen Fauth on Letterboxd
Loved, loved, loved this.
A four-hour long doc on the Grateful Dead could've gone terribly wrong, but Amir Bar-Lev pulls off the miracle of telling the band's story in a way that's both a perfect introduction to newcomers (I watched this with non-heads who were genuinely intrigued) and at the same time manages to reveal new layers to hardcore obsessives.
Someone once described Phil Lesh's bass playing as endlessly surprising & unpredictable — but whenever you needed him to land on the one, he was always right there. This movie is like that: it never takes the well-trodden path down the band's history, but each new chapter illuminates it from a skewered angle you didn't see coming. It dances with all the familiar beats — the acid tests, Europe '72, the hiatus, Egypt, taping, Touch of Grey, Jerry's decline — in a way that's appropriately heady, free-flowing & intuitive, with moments of seemingly accidental grace & synchronicity that surely must have been slaved over meticulously in the editing room but feel serendipitous. Never-seen-before archival clips heads will drool over, sharp interviews, carefully selected performances and Bar-Lev's surprising Frankenstein framing are all layered in ways that play off of each other in an internal conversation that, at times, approximates the band's onstage chemistry.
The four hours accumulate into a deeply moving, sprawling yet precisely controlled canvas that does as much as anything I've come across in 25 years as a fan to explain the Grateful Dead's kaleidoscopic appeal. It's "both/and" joyous, heartbreaking, hilarious, clear-eyed, and mysterious, and somehow manages to accurately circumscribe the territory the Dead mined while also pointing beyond it. I'll probably watch it again tonight and add more thoughts later.
★★★½ review by BBT on Letterboxd
★★★★ review by midnitcafe on Letterboxd
A thorough and engrossing documentary on the Grateful Dead. They interview a wide swath of folks including the surviving members of the band, lots of crew and various hangers-on but narrative wise it rarely goes any place new. As a Deadhead its a story I know well. There were bits and pieces of material I didn't know, but mostly its stories that have been told before. The last 20 minutes or so dig pretty deep into Jerry's downfall and that's really heart breaking.
The music is great and there was tons of video footage that's just awesome. But at 4 hours its more than I could handle in one sitting. I feel like it would have worked better as a mini series.
I'm being too negative. Its a very good documentary - filled with some really incredible moments, but overall its just not as mind-blowing as I was hoping.
★★★½ review by Lawrence Garcia on Letterboxd
MUBI correspondence #6. A conventional documentary in many respects - the title notwithstanding - but just filled with such fascinating detail (e.g. the bit about differential microphones, and how the height of the Wall of Sound matched the height of a standing bass wave). End it on a different, less somberly hagiographic note, and extend the visual inventiveness of the first half to the second, and this might be a best-of-year contender. As is, it's uneven, but very enjoyable. Would certainly play differently for a Dead Head, though.
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