The Grateful Dead, Dan McNally contends, was “the greatest American band.” They mixed the many strands of American music (folk, R&B, gospel, rock, jazz and experimental) into an improvisational gumbo that was risky, but promised transcendence in any given show. In Long Strange Trip, Filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev seeks the key to the bands magic. Unlike conventional band bios, Bar-Lev chose a thematic structure. In six 40 minute mini-movies, he address the 60’s bohemian circles which shaped the Dead, the psychedelic scene in which they began to create “conversational music”, and the bands’ anarchic indifference to the record business and celebrity. Against all odds—they lacked a front man, they didn’t records hits, their music was too discursive for radio, they spent huge sums into developing the perfect sound system — they managed to survive and eventually thrive. Perhaps too much so, because in later years, the stadium tours became a grind instead of a collective adventure. Despite the sad coda, this is an “exhilarating and inspiring movie”. “Director Bar-Lev makes every minute count”.
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