According to the old bumper stickers, "There is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert." For devotees of the enduring classic-rock band, then, the Dead's farewell stand at Chicago's Soldier Field over the holiday weekend truly marked the end of an era.
But even though Deadheads may never again experience the band live (barring a reversal or reunion down the line), the Dead has left behind a considerable screen legacy, one that includes illuminating concert footage, key soundtrack moments in feature films, several documentaries about the group and some upcoming projects, including one produced by Martin Scorsese.
Grateful Dead concert footage, which is meticulously cataloged and swapped by fans, runs the gamut from grainy early bootleg videos to polished TV and film productions. The quintessential chronicle remains "The Grateful Dead Movie," which was shot over the course of five San Francisco shows in 1974, just before an extended hiatus for the band, and released three years later.
Co-directed by Leon Gast ("When We Were Kings") and lead guitarist Jerry Garcia (who died in 1995), the film includes performances of such songs as "U.S. Blues," "One More Saturday Night" and "Sugar Magnolia." It also explores the then-burgeoning Deadhead movement. Former Grateful Dead manager Richard Loren told Rolling Stone in 2013, "Jerry was really proud of that movie," adding that Garcia was "in a creative zone" during that period.
Other notable Dead concert movies include "Sunshine Daydream" and "Downhill From Here."
On the narrative side, the Grateful Dead's music has often been employed for film soundtracks, usually to evoke the sound and spirit of 1960s and '70s counterculture. Movies like "More American Graffiti" and "A Walk on the Moon," for example, deployed Dead tunes to underscore their '60s settings. The 2012 indie "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding," starring Jane Fonda as a lifelong hippie reconnecting with her estranged daughter in present-day Woodstock, includes several Grateful Dead songs and a scene in which Fonda's character talks about attending a Dead concert.
Not that the band's music has been used only for history-evoking purposes: "St. Stephen," a song referencing the early Christian martyr, is heard during an early scene in Bennett Miller's true-crime drama "Foxcatcher." As Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) weighs his brother's offer to accept the patronage of wealthy fan John du Pont (Steve Carell), the song hints at the potential sacrifice that awaits.
As a musical and cultural phenomenon, the Grateful Dead continues to intrigue filmmakers. Mike Fleiss told the story of band member and co-founder Bob Weir in "The Other One: The Long Strange Trip of Bob Weir," released by Netflix in May.
Meanwhile, Grateful Dead documentaries in the works include a yet-untitled project being directed by Amir Bar-Lev and produced by Scorsese, and Malcolm Leo's "This Is Jerry: The Movie," based on an unreleased interview with Garcia from 1987.
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