Long Strange Trip: Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead

I write this review particularly for those who never heard of The Grateful Dead, never heard their music, and/or have preconceived notions and permanently installed negative attitudes toward the band.

I certainly did. I was a progressive rock snob. It took a massive amount of peer pressure and a measure of life experience to see the band, to listen to their songs, to appreciate the immeasurable contribution this phenomenon has made to our world.

Amazon’s Long Strange Trip is, on the surface, about The Grateful Dead. The film is well-funded, artfully crafted, and takes the viewer on a 3 hour and 58 minute outline of the band’s history.

Note the film’s title. It does not contain the band’s name. The film is more about Jerry Garcia, a tragically wounded folk hero, than it is about the band. (The above subtitle is yours truly’s.) To tell the story of the Dead would take many more hours. Better to read books about the band, especially “A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of The Grateful Dead” by Dennis McNally who appears frequently throughout the film.

Although I found myself entertained and fascinated by all the music of, and information about the band, it was Garcia’s story that touched my heart. Wounded by multiple childhood tragedies, and seemingly trapped by the behemoth called ‘The Grateful Dead,’ Garcia could not escape his demons, and we could not escape the deep pain of his untimely passing. Garcia was the heart of the Dead, as he is the heart of this film.

This clarification about the film’s subject is not a disparagement of this epic documentary. Long Strange Trip has great power—it can change minds and hearts. As testimony to such I offer a quote from Owen Gleiberman’s March 17, 2017 “Variety” magazine review: “…the ultimate recommendation I can give the movie is this: I’m one of those people who can’t stand the Grateful Dead… yet I found “Long Strange Trip” enthralling. For the first time, it made me see, and feel, and understand the slovenly glory of what they were up to, even if my ears still process their music as monotonous roots-rock wallpaper.”

The band members and many other interviewees struggle to define the band’s music. Early on in the film’s first ‘Act’ McNally shares a particularly succinct view of their music and its impact:

“It’s a real challenge, if you’re not already a deadhead, to love The Grateful Dead. Because there’s so much distraction. But, if you ignore the rabid fans, and ignore the entire lack of all the expected elements of American entertainment, then you will find there’s a richness that fills your soul.

“The Grateful Dead explored freedom, and they were the cutting edge of a phenomenal re-examination of American values. For me, The Grateful Dead were the most American of all bands because each musician that started that band came from a completely different place musically, and they somehow managed to make it work.

“You got a bluegrass banjo player, you got a blues harmonica player, you got a folky guitarist, R&B drummer, you got a (sic) avant-garde classical composer picking up the bass, and not long after that, a marching band drummer. And, oh, by the way, a genius lyricist who created, in his lyrics, a non-literal hyper-Americana.

“And you take all these streams, and you dissolve egos with acid [LSD], and you stir vigorously. That’s Grateful Dead music.”

Long Strange Trip is currently streaming via Amazon Prime. As of this writing I was unable to find if it is or will be available on disc.

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(Photo of Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

HAPPENING: A Clean Energy Revolution

HAPPENING is James Redford’s most personal film, and I mean that literally. The veteran filmmaker hosts and narrates his journeys across America, and includes his daughter and wife in the story.

Redford is making a point. Renewable energy is happening—rapidly.

He visits a variety of clean energy sources—from the very small to the enormous—speaking with their representatives, learning about the current state-of-the-art in providing renewable energy to the world. There are two over-arching forces of change at work: The need to reduce pollution and global warming, and the positive economic impacts of renewable energies.

The film’s highest drama is in Las Vegas, Nevada, where a very large group of citizens petition the state’s decision to end financial incentives to install solar panels for homes and businesses. Redford and future American President Mark Ruffalo present at this standing-room-only meeting. Countless other petitioners are in front of the building.

The petitioners’ arguments to reverse this damaging decision are incontrovertible. Yet, said arguments fall on deaf ears and cannot sway the pre-purchased ‘no’ votes of the three public utilities board members who are not there in person, but with seemingly dead faces, appear only on a large video screen. The promising, nascent solar power industry is virtually killed. That, however, is not the end of the story.

I am grateful for, and have learned from each and every film Redford has shared—and this one is no exception.

HAPPENING is an HBO documentary film.

(Pictured: James Redford, courtesy of ‘HAPPENING’)

Norwegian LDN Documentary: “I was the old Nansy again, (laughing) to the despair of some.”

Nansy was suffering from the deleterious effects of multiple sclerosis, she found the off-label drug Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN), and experienced a dramatic reduction of symptoms. Her doctors were skeptical: the result didn’t fit in with their world view of expensive, high-side-effect-laden treatments. This is one story from ‘Norwegian LDN Documentary.’

This YouTube documentary is an episode of the Norwegian television program “Vårt lille land” (“Our Small Country”). English subtitles are included. In a very short 22 minutes the film covers a lot of territory. We get an outline of the drug’s history, its use in treating autoimmune disorders, the struggles patients experience securing a prescription for it—and the life-changing help LDN provides.

LDN is a global people’s movement. There are websites, Facebook groups, books, and videos—and even an internet radio program—devoted to the drug and its value. This brief documentary is a perfect introduction. You may find more information about LDN via LDNinfo.org and LDNResearchTrust.org

Here’s the film’s link

Note: Author Julia Schopick and I met on Facebook. She shared her book, Honest Medicine, with me. In it I discovered Low Dose Naltrexone. Julia and I are working on a book devoted exclusively to LDN.

(Pictured: Dr. Edmond O’Flaherty, MICGP)

HEAL: Mind-Body-Spirit

Written, produced and directed by Kelly Noonan Gores, HEAL takes the viewer on a journey through the natural healing and health world. At least 17 practitioners and experts are interviewed speaking of the many ways outside of conventional medicine that people are finding healing and wellness. Gores also interviews several patients who have experienced dramatic recoveries through these methods.

In addition to being a journalist, yours truly wrote a doctoral dissertation for the California Institute of Integral Studies on non-medical healing. HEAL is the finest, most inspirational cinematic introduction to this world of healing I have experienced to date. The film is well crafted, covers a lot of territory, and provides hope to many.

When it comes to holistic health I have two major concerns. The first has to do with the challenge of securing the most effective help. There are now many sources of substances, processes, methods, and procedures available. When it comes to making a decision as to what methods to utilize I’ve come to the conclusion that the practitioner’s skill and compassion is more important than the particular method. This puts the onus on the individual and/or their helpers in choosing the most appropriate method(s) and the most able practitioner(s)—which brings me to the second concern.

Money. With rare exceptions, natural health treatments are not covered by insurance. Although they may be massively less expensive than the conventional medical treatments for serious diseases, many of these natural treatments can be expensive for those of us in the lower or middle classes.

Kudos to filmmaker Gores for tackling this difficult issue in her film. This is the first time I’ve experienced a leader in the field acknowledging this painful economic challenge. Finding ways to bring suffering patients together with talented practitioners is the next big step in the natural health world. The challenge is especially daunting, of course, since the United States is trapped in a profit-based health care system. It will take a massive cultural shift in values to make quality health care a human right in the United States, and to include natural healing methods in that right.

See the film’s website for information on screenings.

(Pictured: Kelly Noonan Gores /// courtesy of HEAL documentary)

Obit: To Make the Dead Live Again

From the film: “It’s counter-intuitive, ironic even, but obits have next to nothing to do with death—and, in fact, absolutely everything to do with the life.”
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Vanessa Gould is one of those documentary filmmakers who is not prolific. I’ve seen all two of her films: “Between the Folds” about origami, and now Obit about the obituary writers of The New York Times. Although those two topics are light years apart, they share the quality, the passion of a master filmmaker.

Appropriately enough, the writers tell the story in Obit. They speak of the history of obituaries, and the challenges of writing a nano-biography—a flawless, instantly engaging 600 to 900 word piece—in a few hours. The goal is to get the piece in the morning edition.

If you are a famous or infamous person, you can reduce your obituary writer’s stress—and, therefore, increase their lifespan—by dying anytime from early evening through early morning. An afternoon passing spells trouble for the writers. Also, don’t die too young, they will not have an ‘advance’ ready for you—a pre-written obituary.

Obviously, obituaries make a tough topic. Gould has met the challenge, she has created a flawless, instantly engaging 93 minute piece.

Obit is distributed by Kino Lorber.

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(Pictured William McDonald, Desk Editor)

Unacknowledged: An Exposé of the Greatest Secret in Human History

Unacknowledged is the second documentary about UFO/alien phenomena produced by Dr. Steven Greer, M.D. It is the most sophisticated, well-crafted film on the topic I have seen to date. The epistemological power of the film lies in its inclusion of politicians, scientists, bureaucrats, and intelligence agents and officials speaking about the phenomena.

The existence of extraterrestrial intelligence is the film’s given, of course. Greer focuses, instead, on the politico-economic issues and dynamics that suppress evidence and provide disinformation—including false flag events the most outrageous of which is a plan to use human reproductions of alien crafts and technology to create a global false flag attack. Greer also explores ‘free energy’—providing information from Nicholas Tesla’s work, as well as references to alien technology already in human hands.

The film concludes with a utopian vision of our planet free from pollution, and a human population with access to virtually free, non-polluting energy sources. Although I value a world free of pollution, and human beings living in a global society based upon political, social and economic justice, Greer’s particular expression of his vision is my nightmare. In his vision human beings could and would continue our over-populatiing of the ecosphere to the detriment of our natural world which has already been and continues to be massively devastated.

My sour note, though, is not intended to discourage the reader from seeing this film. It is inevitable that ‘full disclosure’ of UFO/alien phenomena will occur in our lifetime. In the chance my statement is accurate, I suggest you see Greer’s film.

I also suggest you see Greer’s website of evidence, as well as his site, The Disclosure Project.

Unacknowledged is directed by Michael Mazzola, and distributed by The Orchard. I found the film on Netflix.

As I do for my reviews of documentaries about UFO/alien phenomena I include below a chapter entitled Extraterrestrial Intelligence from my autobiography:

“A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
Paul Simon

“It is hard to fill a cup that is already full.”
Moat

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
The Guy Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays

It began at grocery store checkout stands. Magazine racks displaying the latest copy of The Inquirer. Occasionally there would be a front page photo of an alien, accompanied by some outrageous headline. After so many exposures to tabloid stories and photos it became obvious aliens have really broken bad. They have an unquenchable anal fetish. Of all the possible things ‘in Heaven and Earth’ they would want from us humans! Probing our butts?!

I paid no attention. The existence of alien life and intelligence could not be proved or disproved. Unless one has a direct experience, it’s just someone’s story or evidence. In our cyber era that idea is more pertinent being that we can create all sorts of evidence. I ignored anything and everything about extraterrestrial intelligence. I was, and still am, struggling to find my own.

Then, a few things happened.

First, the repetition of stories of that ilk from various other sources.

Movie movies—E.T., Close Encounters. A television movie, Roswell, staring Dwight Yoakam, Martin Sheen, Kyle MacLachlan, and Xander Berkeley. I began to take more seriously the metaphor of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey as a symbol which intimates alien interventions in our evolution—they contributed to our DNA. We have met the aliens, and they are us.

I saw Fire in the Sky, a movie based upon a 1975 experience in Arizona. The experiencer, Travis Walton, had his Fifteen Minutes of Fame by sharing his story in his book of the same name. The controversy surrounding the event was not so much the event itself as it was the taking of lie detector tests by several witnesses. Most of them passed the test two consecutive times. The probability of that result—if the participants were lying—is less than miniscule.

Two students in my graduate program spoke with me of their experiences. I knew both, and found them to be serious, reliable sources of information. These were particularly sobering conversations.

Around 1980, I learned that the then governor of New Mexico had filed an FOI request with the United States government for information related to the 1947 ‘Roswell Incident.’ Anyone could request a complimentary copy of the material subsequently shared by our government with the Governor’s office. I requested, and six months later received a thick 9X12 manila envelope. I went through the dozens or more pages of this report. A large number of the paragraphs were redacted. Why?

I watched Sightings, a television series about metaphysical phenomena including aliens and UFOs which was on the air during the years 1992-1997. Henry Winkler—Fonzie from ‘Happy Days’—was one of the show’s producers. What stood out was the large number of distinguished military and law enforcement officials who shared experiences of UFOs.

I watched three seasons of The History Channel’s series, ‘Ancient Aliens’. These programs included lots of cheesy stories and ideas—but they also featured utterly mystifying evidence that pointed to alien interventions in our past.

In the mid-1980s I met a DJ from a major FM pop station at a party. As we spoke I learned he had been an air traffic controller early in his career. He told a supervisor he saw a UFO, and was told there would be serious repercussions for him if he were to go public with his experience.

I read two books—Abduction and Passport to the Cosmos—by the late John Mack, M.D., a Harvard psychiatrist who found himself treating people suffering from PTSD who vividly recounted alien abductions. Predictably, the Harvard establishment attempted to have Mack kicked out. They failed.

Mack died tragically and ironically while attending a London conference on the after-death state. Taking field research to the extreme, he was hit by a drunk driver.

Crop Circles: Over the decades I’ve heard about circles with simple or elaborate designs appearing—many overnight—on Earth. These are epistemologically challenging phenomena. With our Internet, and especially, Facebook, I have been able to keep up with the appearance of new circles. Perhaps it is a limit of my imagination, but I simply cannot conceive how—with the more elaborate designs—a group of humans can create these designs in the dead of one night. If humans do such, why hasn’t the complete act of creation been video recorded?

Where is the ‘win’ in believing or disbelieving in extraterrestrial intelligence? Your choice is nothing more or less than an aspect of your identity, your character. Some on both sides of the question benefit by advancing their respective positions publicly. Some pay a price for doing so.

If and when there is mass experience of alien intelligence and/or governments of powerful nations acknowledge such intelligence, the identity of our entire species, our world view, will be threatened and altered—to make an understatement. This time period would be called ‘AD’—‘After Disclosure.’ There are those who believe we already live in humanity’s AD.

BTW: It’s utterly obvious to me that they were here before we were.

Dare to Drum: Music and Drama in Dallas, Texas

John Bryant’s Dare to Drum follows the creation of a piece of music entitled Gamelon D’Drum, described as a musical synthesis of pitch, rhythm, and orchestration, performed with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

D’Drum—a group of Texas-based professional percussionists— conceived and produced this project to expose audiences to percussion instruments from around the world. In addition to securing the Dallas Symphony, the group signed on prolific film composer and Police drummer Stewart Copeland for the music.

The film takes viewers to sites around the world, and to the sounds of a cornucopia of exotic percussion instruments many of which were played in the piece. We also experience the birth pangs of a ground-breaking work of art.

Yes, Dare to Drum is about the writing and performing of a musical composition, but on a deeper level it is a revelation of the intense, transcendental passions that drive musicians and composers. In addition to hearing the film’s music and seeing the creative process at work, there is no want for unexpected drama in this story.

The Kino Lorber disc includes the full 30-minute live performance.

Full Disclosure: My license plate is DRMBEAT

(Pictured: D’Drum)

Unrest: The Hero’s Journey of Jennifer Brea

As documentary films go, it doesn’t get more powerful than this. A young woman—healthy, happy, intelligent, talented, Hollywood beautiful, married to a loving man, living an adventurous, exciting life—is struck down by a debilitating, apparently incurable disease.

This young woman fights back.

The disease is called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Medicine denied or ignored this disease, thus adding immeasurable suffering and loss for its victims and their families. From the film’s website we learn that, “It is estimated that at least 1,000,000 Americans, 250,000 British people, 100,000 Australians, and 400,000 Canadians have ME. An estimated 75-85% of them are women and 80-90% of them are un-diagnosed. (*Estimates vary depending on the diagnostic criteria used.)”

In Unrest, filmmaker Jennifer Brea tells her own story, and that of many others. Medicine’s initial response to this spectrum-based disorder was to flatly deny its existence, blaming its presentation on victims’ psyches. Some doctors still do. The lethal impact of this tragic, misguided belief is a paucity of care and research. Medicine’s denials reveal an arrogant, God-like attitude. “If I can’t diagnose this disease, it doesn’t exist.”

Brea tried almost every possible remedy she could find. Through the miasma of all these treatments and her ongoing symptoms, she survived, fought back, and became a powerful advocate for both patients and those medical professionals who seek funding for research.

Unrest” is a film not to be missed. It is haunting, infuriating, and inspiring. It has already garnered much praise, and will be released in theaters in the fall of 2017.

Coda: I was surprised at one missing piece, a pharmaceutical called Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN), which has been shown to be effective in the treatment of many autoimmune diseases, including ME/CFS. It is by pure serendipity that I learned of LDN. I met author Julia Schopick on Facebook, and soon learned about her book, Honest Medicine which features LDN as one of four low-cost, low-side-effects treatments for serious diseases.

I was immediately struck by information Julia shared about patients’ successes using LDN. The two of us are now partners in writing a book exclusively about LDN. It will contain several LDN success stories, one from a woman with ME/CFS who asserts that, of all the medications and supplements she has taken over the years, only LDN has consistently helped her fatigue and mobility.

Although not yet widely known or recognized by contemporary medicine, LDN’s emergence in the treatment of autoimmune disorders is a people’s movement.

There are nearly twenty Facebook groups devoted to LDN; two are devoted to ME/CFS:

I hope that patients with this debilitating disease will learn about LDN. It doesn’t work for all ME/CFS patients, but then, no single treatment works for everyone suffering from a particular illness. However, many people have experienced excellent results.

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Here are links for the two aforementioned Facebook groups:

LDN/LOW DOSE NALTREXONE ME/CFS MYALGIC ENCEPHALOMYELITIS/CHRONIC FATIGUE   -with over 1,600 members

Low dose Naltrexone (LDN) for Fibromyalgia and (CFS) Fatigue  -with over 8,600 members.

Sea Gypsies: When Everything Goes Wrong, That’s When Adventure Starts

In Sea Gypsies writer/producer/director/cinematographer/editor Nico Edwards takes a ride in the Infinity, a 120 sailing ketch(1.). I write ‘in’ rather than ‘on’ because much of his on-camera narration is done from his room while suffering the effects of motion sickness.

When not ill, Edwards’ cinematography is gorgeous. He captures many moods of the sea and of the ragtag crew on their 8,000 mile voyage from New Zealand to Patagonia—via Antarctica. To make an understatement, Antarctica is the adventurous part.

Infinity is the home of captain Clemens Gabriel who has been sailing the oceans for ten years “on a never-ending voyage of nomadic exploration.” Gabriel has raised four children on the boat. I doubt they all have the same mother. The crew is determined by caprice, and varies from voyage to voyage.

As pelagic documentaries go, Sea Gypsies is a one-off—kinda like watching a drunk guy walk a high wire—and with lots of pretty pictures.

Sea Gypsies is available from First Run Features.

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1. From Google: A ‘ketch’ is a sailing craft with two masts. The distinguishing characteristic of a ketch (ketamina) is that the forward of the two masts (the “mainmast”) is larger than the after mast (the “mizzen”). … In modern usage, the ketch is a fore-and-aft rigged vessel used as a yacht or pleasure craft.

Icarus: Truth Is the New Banned Substance

I prefer to go into a movie cold. At the most I will know the title and the genre. As I’ve written before, I value the experience of discovery in reading, hearing, and seeing stories.

I went into Icarus cold.

I was confused when I began watching this Netflix-distributed documentary. Icarus begins with an extended electronic dialogue between Russian scientist Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov and American filmmaker Bryan Fogel. At the time, Rodchenkov was the director of a Moscow-based drug testing lab for athletes. Fogel, a competitive cyclist.

If I understand correctly, Fogel and Rodchenkov were conducting an experiment to see if Fogel could take performance enhancing drugs, become a faster cyclist, yet be able to have a version of his otherwise positive urine test altered negative for the drugs. Rodchenkov was teaching Fogel about the process of faking incriminating urine samples as clean—and he was doing so with excitement and joy.

Their communication was over the Internet and cell phones, and they met in Russia and the U.S. It did not seem like they were attempting to hide the substance of their dialog from any or all parties who would obviously be interested. I did not know where the story was going. I was worried for Rodchenkov, he’s making it easy to be caught. Why is he doing this? What’s this film about? One clue was Rodchenkov’s interest in George Orwell’s “1984”. He reads lines from the book throughout the film.

Ultimately, the story shifts to a life-threatening situation for Rodchenkov—and an incendiary documentary for Fogel. The film’s primary focus is on Russia’s elaborate state-sponsored faking of athletes’ drug tests—and on the world’s reaction to this scam. We see filmmaker Fogel, Rodchenkov, and various allies work to secure verifiable evidence of Russia’s criminal malfeasance, and make that evidence available.

Rodchenkov pays a painful price for speaking truth to power. It seems as if he was set up as the patsy, the fall-guy for Russia’s malfeasance.

Fogel has told a thoroughly engaging and provocative story. It could be made into a Hollywood film, but that film could not be any more stunning than this documentary.

Fairsport

(Pictured: Filmmaker Bryan Fogel)