LONG STRANGE TRIP is a glorious four hours dedicated to The Grateful Dead that I watched in one big gulp, and that left me wanting more. So when I spoke with director Amir Bar-Lev on April 14, 2017, my first question was about his reaction when he realized that he would not be constrained by the usual two-hour or so time limit.
From there we talked about why he started the film with a quote from Emily Dickinson; the evolution of the Dead in the popular imagination; his own transcendent experiences at Dead concerts; the documentary filmmaker’s challenge when it comes to interpretation, and the unexpected inspiration he used to address that in an unconventional nod to psychedelia.
We finished up by talking about the previously unseen footage and memorabilia of the Dead; bringing the now into the future; how he worked around not being able to talk to Garcia; how he worked with Garcia’s daughter, Trixie; why he thinks all his films are about some sort of religion; ambushing lyricist Robert Hunter with the worst possible question; and why Al Franken was such a perfect example of a Dead Head.
LONG STRANGE TRIP is Bar-Lev’s immersive history of The Grateful Dead, the cultural forces that shaped them, and the cultural force that they became during their 30 years. From their origins playing too many sets a night at a pizza parlor in Menlo Park, to the phenomenon that survived the deaths of band members, drove their record label crazy, and made a secular deity of Jerry Garcia, The Grateful Dead did everything wrong from a business sense, and everything right when it came to being true to music and the fans, even the ones that found them at the end and threatened to upset the delicate balance that made their live shows magic. For them it was always about the music and the fans. The film mixes vintage footage, some never seen before, with contemporary interviews with surviving band members, managers, and Garcia’s daughter, Trixie, as well as Dead Heads, some of whom are surprising. Bar-Lev’s previous work includes MY KID COULD PAINT THAT, THE TILLMAN STORY, and HAPY VALLEY.