It’s perhaps a touch ironic that documentarian Amir Bar-Lev’s lovingly crafted look back on the greatest American “jam band” in history clocks in at a sizeable four hours in length without being comprehensive, but Long Strange Trip deserves an immense amount of credit for making every second of this look back at the life and times of The Grateful Dead fly by.
Instead of using every second of footage or every bootleg tape he can get his hands on, Bar-Lev (Happy Valley, My Kid Could Paint That) settles on an interesting structure, groove, and flow for his film that echoes how The Grateful Dead performed. He’ll allow for single perspectives on a given aspect of the band to play out in full before moving onto the next topic, resulting in a cohesive, focused oral history that’s arguably better than any book that could have been written about the band.
Bar-Lev knows his stuff, and only turns to people who can talk in glorious detail about The Dead, either because they love them or they were there when everything was happening. As with most films of this nature, and certainly one this epic in length, the greatest compliment applies: it will appeal to viewers even if you don’t like or know anything about The Grateful Dead.