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Posted December 13, 2012 by whopperjaw in Flicks
 
 

Director Malcom Leo invites fans to get on the bus for Jerry Garcia film


Director Malcolm Leo, whose work includes This Is Elvis and films on The Beach Boys and Crosby, Stills & Nash, interviewed the late Jerry Garcia in 1987. He recently unearthed the footage and decided it would make for a great documentary about the Grateful Dead singer. With any luck, his Kickstarter campaign will give him enough cash to get the thing rolling. Leo recently phoned in to discuss the film and his deep appreciation for everything that Garcia represents. You can check out footage and make a contribution to the project at jerrythemovie.com.

Tell me a bit about the interview you did with Jerry Garcia that’s the basis of the film you’re directing?
I was fortunate enough to have a very well-known cameraman at the time, who’s been more successful in later years. That was Russ Carpenter, who won for Titanic. I wanted to shoot 16mm negative, the best quality. I had done a lot of shows and some were videotaped and some were 16 and then transferred to tape. In this case, I asked Russ and told him what my ideas were and we came up with a dramatic backdrop and dramatic lighting. We had two cameras, and I told him to keep rolling. It was done at the Grateful Dead warehouse at Front St. in San Raphael. It’s funny. When Jerry came, all of a sudden he appeared and he had this enormous smile on his face. He said, “Hey, let’s get started on this.” I knew from the get go that he was wise and articulate and full of charm and health and glowing and just a delight. Whenever, you do these kinds of one-on-one interviews, I avoid the typical thing where someone is slouching on the couch. I brought this stool so that the person you’re filming sits high and by the very nature of it, his energy level is up and he’s sitting tall.

He got into it right away. The nature of the conversation was unlimited. He wanted to do it for history. There were no restrictions. He had just recovered from a stroke and it was a peak year in a career full of peak years. Subjects included his upbringing in Santa Cruz — his family had a cabin in the woods and his mother introduced him to the Grand Old Opry. Not many people know this, but his own father was a performer and a troubadour in the European sense of being an artist. performer and musician.  Jerry was musically inspired from the beginning. The first record he remembered was “Gee” by the Crows and that it had that “guitar thing.” He heard that in Chuck Berry and it immediately grabbed him because it was so different from what he heard before. From those beginnings, we talked about his years as a folkie and his introduction to the North Beach hip poets. You know the phrase, he ran away and joined the circus. From 15, he was on his own. He chose that kind of life and I think that added to his greatness. Our interview ranged from talking about the band and how it was formed to the whole Bay Area explosion. We also talked about his reaction to the Beatles, Stones and particularly Dylan, as well as the cultural swath that was going through the country at the time.

I didn’t want to be a rock journalist. I wanted him to tell his own story in his own words. I literally told him he was an actor in his own movie. He was insightful about drugs. He said they were a gamble, like a loaded gun. We didn’t cover his entire life, but there was nothing off limits.

The style of Jerry’s comments and talking were almost like a musician riffing. When he got into a groove, I let him roll. They were extended jams. It was almost as if he was singing.

Do you think that’s what separates your interview?
I’m convinced of that. Most of the other interviews I’ve seen had a specific agenda. There was a distinct way that Jerry would tell you a story or tell you something, particularly about the acid tests. He would describe [band mate] Phil Lesh running down to the Longshoreman’s Hall when every freak in town was there. Phil says, “You know what this place needs? It needs us.”

The style of Jerry’s comments and talking were almost like a musician riffing. When he got into a groove, I let him roll. They were extended jams. It was almost as if he was singing. He would say things like, “We tried to do things and I think it worked, maybe, and I think it had an influence on people who followed us, maybe.” He would get you into that and that’s the style that I’m looking for in the film. I don’t want it to be a talking heads, “voice of god” narration. I want historical witnesses who drive the narrative with us, particularly with his comments about playing with other musicians such as Ornette Coleman and Bob Dylan or the joy he felt as a full-fledged musician.

How were you able to secure music rights?
We have an arrangement and the budget allows for the licensing. With the family’s support and participation we have negotiated a deal that they will help and support us through the way with all things that relate to Jerry. He is part of the Grateful Dead and has rights to part of the songs he wrote.

Tell me a bit about the ceremony you filmed at Giants AT&T Park.
I think it was mid-June 2010 when there was a Jerry Garcia tribute day and [Garcia’s daughter] Annabelle was going to throw out the first pitch. The family asked if we could provide footage of Jerry talking about San Francisco. When it appeared on the Jumbotron, the first thing he said was that he loved San Francisco and the whole stadium erupted. They gave everybody a Jerry Garica Bobblehead and Kazoo. They even set a record by performing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on Kazoo. It’s interesting to me because I saw Jerry in 1982 for a similar ceremony. I think the city and Jerry are linked forever.

There was something about Jerry’s peace with himself . . . about his not wanting to be a leader and not wanting to be the pied piper that everyone thought he was. He avoided all that and in doing so, it burnished his legend.

Talk about Jerry’s enduring significance.
That is such a good question. I think of Jerry as this last American hero. He died before the century turned and when that century turned, it’s a whole new ballgame. The world moves at such a fast pace, and the figures come and go quickly. There was something about Jerry’s peace with himself . . . about his not wanting to be a leader and not wanting to be the pied piper that everyone thought he was. He avoided all that and in doing so, it burnished his legend. When he died all too soon, the rug was pulled out on a lot of people. It’s such a tribute to him that the reaction to his death was monstrous. We lost Uncle Jerry and there’s this myth now about who he was. The Dead unto itself is a remarkable story and no doubt a film will be made about that. I wanted to do a portrait of Jerry. It’s not in the Elvis range, but it is in the mythic range of a poet singer, a Kerouac, a Guthrie. Also, his humanity. Everybody would like to have their own breakfast with Jerry.