Dec 23, 2012

October 1974: Sunshine Daydream


Stanford's Memorial Auditorium will be the site of an unusual film premiere tomorrow when Sunshine Daydream, a movie about the Grateful Dead, will be shown twice, at 8 and 10 p.m. Tickets will be $2 for everyone.
Filmed in Oregon at a benefit for writer Ken Kesey's dairy in Eugene, the movie features the Dead playing some highly psychedelic music, reminiscent of performances when the Dead were the Kesey-led Merry Pranksters house band.
Filmmakers Joaquin Villegas and Alan Curtiss then took the benefit footage and intercut it with old footage of Merry Pranksters doing their thing on a cross-country bus trip ten years ago.
The escapades of the Merry Pranksters, for those unfamiliar with them, are detailed in Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Kesey, the Dead and the Merry Pranksters all got together in the midpeninsula area around Palo Alto-Stanford in the middle 1960s. The film should give students of the Dead in 1974 some idea of the way it was in the beginning.
For example, there's a clip of infamous prankster Neal Cassidy driving the "magic" bus to the sounds of the Dead playing "I Know You Rider."
In conjunction with the first public screening of Sunshine Daydream, KZSU disc jockey Mike Lopez will host a show from 7 to 8 p.m. tonight featuring many unreleased Dead tapes.
Audience comments on the test screening are encouraged, according to the two filmmakers. The Memorial Auditorium Box office will open at 6 p.m. for the event.

(from the Stanford Daily, October 5 1974)

* * *


Imagine working for over two years on a movie without realizing any monetary gain. Such is the dedication of a group of filmmakers and Grateful Dead freaks, who prefer to be known as Canis Major, who have put together Sunshine Daydream, a film about the Dead and their music.
Since the Dead have always been associated with the beginnings of psychedelia, the Ken Kesey-led acid tests and other early phenomena that became the "counter-culture" to the rest of America, filming the Dead in action in Oregon at a benefit for Kesey's Eugene dairy was only fitting and proper.
What isn't fitting and proper are the delays and the inaction on the part of the Dead that has kept the film from commercial release. According to Joaquin Villegas, spokesman for Canis Major, the Dead have refused to sign a release authorizing commercial distribution of the movie.
The Dead have seen the movie, however, Villegas said, and "they haven't been the same since." He thinks they were freaked out by the accuracy of the cinematic portrayal, and are consequently unsure of what action to take toward the film.
What of the movie, which was given its first public screening at Memorial Auditorium last Saturday night, attracting more customers than Stanford night at Marine World? It succeeds in capturing the easy ambience of the kind of crowd that would show up for a free Dead concert on a hot August day, but Sunshine Daydream doesn't really show the musical versatility of the Dead that well.
With the Kesey-acid test connection most important in showing where the Dead come from musically, much of the film's second half is devoted to a long spacey version of "Dark Star," one of the classic head-trippy songs.
Sunshine Daydream uses an imaginative animated sequence, all done with stills clipped from National Geographic to illustrate "Dark Star," which gives much of the film's last 40 minutes a Yellow Submarine-ish flavor. But when one isn't "in the mood," long improvisational pieces like "Dark Star" tend to get boring, although aided by imaginative graphics to go with the music.
Even with an overly long "Dark Star" sequence, the vibrant first half of the movie makes up for any second half excesses. The old footage of the Kesey days and early acid tests is masterfully mixed in with the Oregon benefit and as the Dead segue from "China Cat Sunflower" to "I Know You Rider," Neal Cassidy, the speediest bus driver of all time, appears driving the Merry Prankster bus named "Further" with classic abandon. The music fits perfectly, and anyone in the audience can see how it was to be "on the bus" in the acid-augmented mid-60s.
The footage of the people attracted to a free Dead concert allows anyone to see how it is to be a part of the crowd of Dead freaks. From small children playing under the stage to a naked man writhing on top of a pole in time to the music, it's your typical crowd out for a good time and a good tan in the Oregon sun.
At a brief intermission while reels were being changed on the lone projector, questions and comments were solicited from the audience. In the best Flicks tradition, someone called out, "There's sure a lot of tit in this movie."
Yes, many nubile women's breasts were getting a tan in the hot Oregon sun, and in the first reel, breasts received a lot of attention from the filmmakers.
The number of bare breasts did help to convey the atmosphere of freedom and openness at the benefit, but cramming almost every bare bosom into a five-minute sequence may be an overly pointed use of the phenomenon.
Technically and aesthetically the film is not yet the way its makers want it to be, Villegas said after the first show. The Stanford screening made enough money to pay for a print of the film, and the next showing, at San Jose State, will have a better sound system, according to Villegas.
But finished or not, Sunshine Daydream should be considered must viewing for all Dead fans and budding filmmakers interested in seeing how much can be done well on a shoestring.

(by George Powell, from the "World of Cinema" column, Stanford Daily, 11 October 1974)


  1. The film, of course, is the 8/27/72 Veneta film we're all familiar with, which after 40 years has yet to be released by the Dead.

    Coincidentally, the Dead filmed their own farewell shows later that month. While that would result in the "official" Dead film, this piece shows the underground Dead collectors' scene starting to come to the surface.
    Note the "many unreleased Dead tapes" being played on the radio show...

    It's interesting that this brief article focuses so much more on the Kesey/Merry Prankster angle than on the show itself. By this time, the story of the early Dead has started receding into history - "the middle 1960s." And the film is already a time capsule: "The film should give students of the Dead in 1974 some idea of the way it was in the beginning."
    STUDENTS of the Dead in 1974!

  2. i lived a mile away. I could have walked. I remember this being advertised. I was a high school smartass, and thought "there aren't any movies of the Dead I haven't seen," so I didn't go. This sums up me in high school in a nutshell.

    Several months later, my friend and I were at a Journey concert--don't ask--and I asked this girl if she liked the Grateful Dead. She told me about seeing the Sunshine Daydream movie, and I was totally stunned to find out what I had missed.

    1. Hmm, I guess in 1974 you were not yet a student of the Dead!

  3. I found a review of the film in the Stanford Daily and added it. Quite detailed and fascinating - probably the earliest review of this film. It even mentions the naked pole man!

    The reviewer admires how well the film depicts the Dead crowd and the show's atmosphere. He feels the Dark Star sequence is excessive - "overly long...tends to get boring" - and wishes there was a greater variety of songs. He likes the way the China>Rider sequence links the Dead back to the Neal Cassady days. The numerous topless women draw comment (and they would be mostly edited out of the official release, decades later).
    These were test screenings, apparently to raise funds and judge audience reaction. The film editing was still being worked on - the producer here says that "technically and aesthetically the film is not yet the way its makers want it to be." The animation sequences were a work in progress (and never quite finished) - one filmmaker said that they were "patched in pretty much willy-nilly from an old work print...due to lack of band footage." Since the Dead never approved release, the filmmakers never really got to a "final cut" of the film, but set it aside.

    The producer laments that "the Dead have refused to sign a release authorizing commercial distribution of the movie." According to him, when they saw it "they were freaked out by the accuracy of the cinematic portrayal, and are consequently unsure of what action to take toward the film."
    I don't know whether anyone knew that the Dead would be filming their own shows just a couple weeks later - there's no sign of it here. But that was probably the nail in the coffin for Sunshine Daydream, since that was a project the Dead had complete control over.

    The theater was full, and audience questions and comments were encouraged during the screenings - it would be interesting to know how the original audience reacted.

  4. They say " There is nothing that compares to seeing the Dead in concert" and as having attended their live shows this rings so true! For some reason in my mind, seeing a film or documentary similar to the "Grateful Dead Movie" just is not the same as actually being at that performance!Then again, the Dead hold something special for everyone whom cares to embrace!

  5. I can't remember at the moment if any earlier interviews with the Dead mention the movie; but the earliest must be a June '72 KSAN interview with Garcia.
    KSAN: When will there be a good movie about the Dead? ...
    JERRY: There are some guys who wanna do a movie on us. They've been sort of setting it up for a long time. What they wanna do is make a movie that would be just a movie of one of our live gigs, you know, just three hours long or four hours, just a record of that thing.

    The filmmakers had followed the Dead around on the Europe '72 tour to prepare for the movie, so it had already been months in planning. Two months later, they got their chance.