Shot over a five night run of performances that took place at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom between October 16th and October 20th in 1974, The Grateful Dead movie, co-directed by Leon Gast and Jerry Garcia himself, is an interesting look back at the Grateful Dead phenomena during the height of its popularity. By this point in the game, the band had established itself and developed a ridiculously loyal following and more or less defined their sound, somehow making it through the sixties and lasting long into the decades that would follow.
Shot with a multi-camera setup, the songs performed here are:
U.S. Blues / One More Saturday Night / Goin’ Down The Road / Feeling Bad / Truckin’ / Eyes Of The World / Sugar Magnolia / Playing In The Band / Stella Blue / Casey Jones / Morning Dew / Johnny B. Goode / It Must Have Been The Roses
More than just a concert film, however, the movie also features a peek into ‘Deadhead’ culture by interviewing various fans, some local and some who have travelled quite a ways to see the band. Not everyone is impressed with the fact that the shows are being filmed, in fact one very vocal fan accuses the band on camera of completely selling out by making a movie. More than that, however, the movie captures the vibe that seemed to follow the band around. People will just start dancing in the middle of the aisles and during the concert one particular camera captures one dude standing right up front for the entire show singing along gleefully with every song. We get a look at the band doing a sound check, prepping for the show, relaxing backstage and interacting with their crewmembers but don’t expect much in the way of interview footage as the bits with the band members are fleeting, and aside from the musical bits they don’t have as much to say about things as the aforementioned fans seem to. On this level, it doesn’t offer a lot of insight into the band as a cohesive working unit.
How much mileage you get out of this release will depend on your appreciation of The Grateful Dead’s music to a certain extent but it won’t depend solely on that. Being into the performance will definitely help but writing from the perspective of someone who never got into the Grateful Dead at all, really, this was still an interesting watch. If nothing else it’s a document of a part of American culture that still exists to this day, a mix of drug culture and hippie goofiness combined with an obvious devotion to the band. If you’re not a Deadhead you can still see it and enjoy it as a cultural time capsule, and if the band’s music does do it for you, well, this is really a no-brainer then, right?
The Grateful Dead Movie looks absolutely awesome in this AVC encoded 1080p 1.781. widescreen presentation taken from the original 35mm negative. The liner notes included with the disc note that the film was restored on a DaVinci 2K Plus system and that color correction was done but that no noise reduction or grain reduction filters were applied during the transfer. The result is a slightly grainy but very nicely detailed and very film like presentation that impresses in pretty much every way you’d expect it to. While this won’t offer up the same levels of detail that a big time brand new Hollywood film might, given that it’s shot underneath some sometimes harsh stage lights, the results are impressive indeed. Texture and detail are strong across the board, color reproduction is excellent, and black levels are always consistently strong. There are no noticeable compression artifacts and no serious print damage to note – in short, there’s really nothing to complain about here, the movie looks pretty much exactly as it should on this release.
Shout! Factory have gone the extra mile in the audio department for this release too, providing a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix, a DTS standard definition 5.1 Surround Sound mix, and a PCM 2.0 Stereo mix, each one taken from the original master multitrack tapes. Purists will opt for the 2.0 track, but those wanting to take full advantage of their surround sound system will certainly appreciate the DTS-HD 5.1 track, which uses the rear channels nicely to fill in the mix with some crowd and background noise when the movie calls for it. All three options sound great, and it’ll really boil down to personal preference in terms of which one sounds better. English subtitles are provided for the entire movie and translate not only the dialogue in the film but all of the song lyrics as well.
The first disc contains the movie, of course, as well as some nice animated menus but also contains a commentary track from supervising editor Susan Crutcher and film editor John Nutt which does a pretty good job of explaining how this movie came to be, what it was like working on the picture with Garcia, and the history of the film in general. There is some dead air here and there but the laid back vibe to the talk makes it easy to listen to and Deadheads will no doubt enjoy hearing about the history of the picture from a different perspective.
The second disc in this set is a standard definition DVD and on it you’ll find over an hour and a half worth of bonus concert footage shot around the same time as the footage seen in the movie – included here are the following tracks, transferred from the original negatives and all available with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound or Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo options and with optional song lyric subtitles for each track: Uncle John’s Band / Sugaree / The Other One / Spanish Jam / Mind Left Body Jam / The Other One / Scarlet Begonias / China Cat Sunflower / I Know You Rider / Dark Star / Weather Report Suite.
From there we move on to the featurettes, the first of which is A Look Back (28:20), which is a general overview of the history of The Grateful Dead Movie and which features some interviews with the band members including Garcia. There’s a lot of vintage behind the scenes clips here as well as some new interviews with a few of the people who worked on the movie shot recently slapped on to the end. There’s also a featurette here that covers the making of the animated sequence (16:56) that starts the movie off and a featurette that covers what went into putting the DVD (14:41) presentation together. Rounding out the extras on the second disc are a trio of TV spots advertising the Mars Hotel album from 1974, a demonstration video (5:53) that shows off the multicamera and multitrack audio used to record the concert footage, a huge still gallery of production notes, still photographs and other items from the movie’s archives and some classy menus and an easy to find easter egg that’s a quick 0:32 interview with Jerry Garcia.
Aside from the contents on the two discs in the set, this release also comes packaged inside a handsome slipcase cover which also contains, aside from the Blu-ray case containing the two discs, a full color twenty-four page booklet of liner notes, photos, credits and notes on the restoration of the film that help to put the whole thing into context.
The Final Word:
As much a time capsule of the era in which it was made as it is a concert film, The Grateful Dead Movie is interesting to watch even if you’re not necessarily a fan of the band. Shout! Factory have really rolled out the red carpet for this one, providing the film in an amazing high definition transfer with lossless audio and a fantastic collection of extra features. Rarely do music and concert films get the deluxe treatment that’s been provided here – this is overall just a really exceptional release.
Click on the images below for full size Blu-ray screen caps!