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Grateful Dead Documentary "Long Strange Trip" Is a Masterpiece

Long Strange Trip, Film Review

June 1, 2017 | by Andrew K. Lau

Beware, dear reader, beware: Long Strange Trip is not for the faint-of-heart nor the casual observer as the opening minutes make abundantly clear. A graceful montage of post-Renaissance woodcuts, paintings and prints depicting Death in various forms, collecting victims or creeping in the shadows. Underneath these visuals is the sound of the Grateful Dead playing a haunted, patient, acid-soaked version of Rev. Gary Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” The combination is both powerful as it is chilling; and not since the 2002 MC5 documentary, A True Testimonial, has there been such a brilliant, compelling opening sequence.

Anyone willing to go the distance with this four-hour epic will be rewarded for their efforts because what you have here is a masterpiece; if nothing else, it raises the bar on the documentary art form. Solid, candid interviews and straight-up brilliant editing are the backbone to its success and at times the visuals and surround-sounds coagulate into mind-bending effect. And then there are the referential call backs weaving themselves through the entire film to a point where, if one were to arrive even five minutes late, some of these references will be lost. This is also most certainly a theater experience and I’m guessing the payoff from the emotional highs and lows will be considerably less if watched on a small screen.

Made with great love and care, the film is extremely funny at times; a band this unusual able to prosper for so long within the confines of the music industry may be the funniest aspect of all. But the laughs are short-lived, really, as this is a tragedy. Stubborn, reckless, idealistic ventures never seem to end well and the undercurrent of doom tugs at your sleeve every step of the way. The body count begins in earnest before the band can celebrate 10 years together.

The Grateful Dead may be the most misunderstood collection of musicians of our time and Long Strange Trip goes above and beyond trying to rectify that situation. So approach with caution, dear reader, but approach nonetheless.

Long Strange Trip is available via Amazon Prime on June 2.

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