grateful dawg is a musical adieuto the late Jerry Garcia. Garcia, known to all as the lovable leader of the Grateful Dead, began his musical career as a bluegrass/folk musician. He met fellow bluegrass aficionado David Grisman in the mid-60s, and over the next 30 years the two got together to jam, record and perform their own free-flowing brand of bluegrass/jazz.
Grisman's daughter Gillian has documented their musical friendship in the 81-minute Grateful Dawg, a film that is more heartfelt than insightful but will still appeal even to those not enamoured of string-picking music.
The most entertaining bits cover Garcia's and Grisman's early years hanging around bluegrass festivals. There are shots of a clean-shaven, handsome Garcia plucking his banjo as a member of the "old time" band Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, and of Grisman happily strumming his mandolin with his straight-as-an-arrow musical pals.
Garcia's and Grisman's love for traditional music cemented their friendship. It's interesting to hear Garcia admit how he struggled with the discipline required to play traditional music and how Grisman's more rigorous approach to playing served as a healthy counterbalance to his more laissez-faire attitude.
By 1973 they had formed and disbanded the bluegrass group Old & In the Way, and by the mid-70s they'd split up; Garcia was focusing on the Grateful Dead, and Grisman was finding fulfillment in acoustic instrumental music. They reunited in the late 80s as Garcia/Grisman to release five albums from a total of 44 recorded jam sessions.
Director Grisman has assembled footage mostly from the last 10 years of Garcia's and Grisman's collaboration, and by that time in their lives the two old friends had become mirror images of each other. There are a few quick panning shots in the film where you can't tell who's who.
The footage isn't stellar, especially in some concert scenes where the camera jerks about, in and out of focus. It's rare footage but hard to watch, and to her credit Grisman tries to edit around it. But her choices are pretty limited.
I would have liked to hear more from Garcia -- there are only a few audio interview clips with him, but they contain candid comments about his playing and his love for traditional music.
It also would have been interesting to show some of Garcia's Grateful Dead work to help us understand more completely how amazing it is that the man who helped define the rock and roll era could find such deep pleasure in singing a 100-year-old sea shanty.INGRID RANDOJA firstname.lastname@example.org
grATEFUL DAWG directed and produced by Gillian Grisman, with David Grisman and Jerry Garcia. 81 minutes. A Somewhere North Features Inc. release. Opens Friday (January 11) at the Bloor. For times, see Rep Cinemas, page 66. Rating: NNN