Jerry Garcia at least had an excuse. Surrounded by sycophants and worshipped by millions of fans, the Grateful Dead guitarist couldn’t prevent his most inane utterances from being given the gravity of gospel. (One wonders if he didn’t perhaps find that the best defense was to be offensive in his geekiness.) But in Grateful Dawg, Gillian Grisman’s documentary on the 30-year on-again, off-again musical collaboration between Garcia and mandolin player David Grisman (the director’s father), the famed noodler’s friends and musical associates seem to think that they deserve the same treatment. So we learn, for example, that Garcia was interested in “the role of music in the richness of real life,” thanks to his widow, Deborah Koons Garcia. And that Old & In the Way, the two men’s most famous band together and the impetus for a thousand suburban middle-class rockers’ bluegrass fetish, “had a career without ever really existing,” according to David Grisman. Like the talking heads it features, the film suffers from self-indulgence and inattentiveness to appearance. Studio-session patter is given too much play (“Need a pencil?” “Yeah”), visual tricks are amateurishly attempted (a half-Grisman/half-Garcia face illustrating that they were “beards of a feather”), and the ugly stuff is glossed over (the “silly business-type thing…gone awry” that kept the friends apart for more than a decade). But people such as fiddle hero Vassar Clements offer intelligent commentary—interspersed with live recordings, studio scenes, and occasional voice-overs from the Dead Man himself—on the men’s partnership and eclectic musical interests, including sea chanteys and traditional children’s songs. And the film manages to convey the comfiness of the Grisman home studio, the site of “the flowering of Garcia’s music through David’s efforts in Jerry’s last years,” according to Old & In the Way’s Peter Rowan. The director’s best decision was to leave every Garcia/Grisman musical selection uncut. (Her worst? To include footage of her baby brother lamenting Garcia’s 1995 death—”When we lost him, it was beyond tears for me,” intones the little boy.) If the concert scenes, taken largely from a 1995 Warfield Theater performance, are less than visually dynamic, Deadheads may be pleasantly surprised to note that Grisman is a veritable terpsichorean compared with the stoic Garcia: He sways, rolls his head, and occasionally even takes a step in thrall to the music. —Caroline Schweiter