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Macca's Dead "Movie"

Grateful Dead- A Photofilm

  • A Juggler Films Production
  • Running Time: 9 minutes 17 seconds
  • Producers: Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney and Robert Montgomery
  • Editor: Eddie French
  • Supervising Editor: Paul McCartney
  • Director: Paul McCartney

  • The London Film Festival last November [1995] included the first public screenings of Paul McCartney's short "film" on the Dead-- actually an artful assembly of Linda's 1967/8 photo sessions with the band.

    Paul and Linda themselves turned up for the Leicester Square "Celebrity Shorts" showing, where the film shared the bill with the latest Wallace and Grommit epic, A Close Shave, as well as other works by David Thewlis and Nic Roeg . Also present at the sold-out show, Theresa Russell and Terry Gilliam.

    Paul arrived at the last possible minute, dishevelled looking and munching on a sandwich, purple scarf across his shoulders. Linda seemed rather strained but stopped on the steps to give the peace sign to photographers and say "Peace and Light!"

    The 9 min 17 sec film is made up from black and white photographs from two locations, the Dead 'house' at 710 Ashbury and a concert in Central Park. Some seemed quite familiar, and I hadn't previously associated them with Linda.

    The shots consist of group poses on the front porch of the house, close ups of individual band members clowning around, falling downstairs, meditating, etc., and another set taken on the external side steps up to the top floor. The Central Park photos show the band playing, and also the crowd, panning across stills and selecting closeups of faces.

    What's special is the way successive images from Linda's rolls are replayed to give an animated feel, the stills breaking into brief snatches of movement. The sequential effect is enhanced by digital video, with some playful morphing of faces into each other and a final image of the whole band appearing first one at a time, and all together in line, on the steps. Video effects specialists The Moving Picture Company get an end credit.

    Although Heads may already be acquainted with some of the the key images used, it's an absorbing piece of work, the mood a mixture of slapstick and nostalgia, with a few more disconcerting moments, as when a static shot of Pigpen suddenly "comes to life" in a slow, realistic live movement. Ultimately I appreciated the film more as a Deadhead than as a film buff. The technique is very accomplished, but not especially original. However, the nine minutes go by with tantalising swiftness, and I'd certainly like another look...

    Music is all from Anthem of the Sun: the electronics at the end of That's for the Other One; the start of New Potato Caboose; and Alligator (starting with the percussion section four minutes or so in). It all sounded great through the cinema's Dolby Digital sound system and I thought at first these were different mixes/tapes -- don't think so but it sounded a lot better than my CD!

    Afterwards Paul took a few audience questions ...

    Had Jerry seen the film?

    Paul: "I was trying to get the film to him when he died. No other band members have seen it yet."

    How long did it take to make?

    Paul: "I was working with four rolls of film, negatives, taken by Linda. I'm working on a similar one of the Beatles at the moment. Overall the whole thing took a couple of years - I work very slowly. [laughter] Once we were full at it it took about a couple of months."

    Who funded it?

    Paul: "Not Jake Eberts!" [laughter]

    What inspired you in the first place?

    Paul: "I was just looking through Linda's contact sheets from the sixties. and that's what gave me the idea. Especially one sequence of Bob Weir moving very fast, almost 24 frames a second... She'd shot some of the film like a cinematographer and it was the days before motor drive.[sic?] The four rolls were really all there was of the Dead, though there was a bit of colour which I decided not to use."

    Ever been to a Dead show?

    Paul: "I never got to a concert. Before I started this I wasn't that great a fan, and once I started work with the music I wished I had done. For the film's purposes, the Grateful Dead material was easy to work with, because they have long extended instrumentals, whereas our stuff was always very formalised. But for the Beatles one I found something we did for the Roundhouse in the sixties which is a fifteen minute instrumental of us banging on things... very avant garde! I'm not sure it would ever actually be released just as music..."

    Did you know the Dead had covered That Would Be Something?

    Paul: "I was aware that they did some of our stuff, several of our songs, and took it as a great compliment."

    Would you ever play one of theirs?

    Paul: "Oh, er, [flippant] tomorrow!"

    Who is the better bass player, you or Phil Lesh?

    Paul: "Hmmm, [laughter] good question." [mock-modest] "I!!"

    Favourite directors?

    Paul: "Aw... there's so many... I like Fellini... come round to my place one evening and we'll talk about it! I 'm not really a filmmaker and this was really a labour of love. Even for the (Beatles) Anthology TV documentaries, we were asked our opinions of course, but I didn't want to look over people's shoulders..."

    Video release?

    Paul: "I don't like the idea of stuff going straight to video. I'd like to see this stay a film for a long time, five years or so, before it, er, cringes on to video."

    McCartney's co-producer, Robbie Montgomery, sent me the following press release but didn't want to talk about his own contribution except to say it was meant as an "art " film, and was very much a labour of love for Paul.

    From Paul McCartney-- A Photofilm

    Inspired by and with just four rolls of photographs, Paul McCartney has originated a new venture in his longtime interest in cinematographic art- a Photofilm. His nine minute movie of The Grateful Dead in concert and at ease is the result of many hours spent imagining and experimenting how still photography could be made to move and morph and complement a celebrated soundtrack of the sixties. After years of hard work by him and his team, Paul McCartney's first Photofilm has been invited by the British Film Institute to be entered for the London Film Festival.

    Grateful Dead- a Photofilm began when McCartney was studying contact sheets of photographs that his wife Linda had captured of the Grateful Dead during 1967-68. Then living in new York Linda had photographed the band in concert in Central Park and at their home in San Francisco.

    She had however just four rolls of film from both shoots. McCartney noted how before the vogue for motordrive Linda had taken successive shots of guitarist Bob Weir in an attempt to get a portrait. Caught by the whimsy of how the series of stills might look if flipped in rapid sequence and motivated by his wish to celebrate the Dead of that era, he began to create--- spurred too by a sudden memory of childhood.

    "When I was a kid, recovering from an illness, I had a strange experience when by concentrating on a photograph in newspaper I seemed to be able to make it move," Paul recalled. "Looking at these pictures I got that feeling again and I thought that I could maybe make these pictures more interesting by making a film of the Dead at a time of which not much footage exists. It was to be a labour of love and the more I thought about it the more excited I became with the possibilities."

    McCartney began storyboarding the 140-odd stillls which were then filmed in a variety of styles on a rostrum camera at his direction or, as he puts it, "filmed to my grocery list." The film was then loaded into a computer and McCartney, sitting with an editor at times for up to ten hours day-- directed the digital edit, shortening, lengthening and speeding, slowing and morphing the sequence of stills into an extraordinary movie that is Grateful Dead- A Photofilm.

     "I've long been interested in movies, though when we started out on this I really busked the technique," said Paul, "I hope it's a good record of the Dead at this time in their original lineup before Pigpen died, and I'm honoured to be invited to show this film at the London Film Festival."

    The haunting soundtrack of GD-A Photofilm was selected especially by McCartney from tracks performed and recorded by The Grateful Dead at the time they were photographed by Linda McCartney.

    "The film was a hands on production throughout by Paul McCartney," observed co-producer Robert Montgomery "It was devised and directed by Paul and it became a film of his love that locks a time and a feeling that no longer exists."

    Paul McCartney is currently storyboarding his second photofilm--- of Linda McCartney's photographs of the Beatles.

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