In a recent interview about his upcoming Jerry Garcia documentary, filmmaker Justin Kreutzmann discusses how Jerry once tried to make a film adaptation of the Kurt Vonnegut novel The Sirens of Titan directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Bill Murray.
Kreutzmann sat down with Relix to discuss his new project in a conversation that focused on his relationship with the movie’s subject. He described how he and Jerry bonded over their shared love of film while he was traveling with his father, Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. “When you’re walking through the airport with three hours to kill before your flight to Portland, you shoot the shit about a lot of stuff,” the younger Kreutzmann says. “I would talk to [Garcia] about music stuff, but that wasn’t our connection. It would be the latest film or what we’d seen on TV or some new director who had come along. It also was a way that I could join the conversation and not just feel like the kid, but feel like I had something contribute while also speaking with somebody I could learn a lot from. In a very Jerry way he would tell me what he thought about things and what he learned over the years.”
Kreutzmann also describes a post-recording session car trip down to San Francisco to see David Lynch‘s now-iconic neo-noir masterpiece Blue Velvet: “It was only playing in one theater because David Lynch was newish back then. On the ride back Jerry dissected everything like, ‘The ear in the field, did you get what they were saying with that?’ He loved Blue Velvet.”
One of the most interesting parts of the conversation, though, is when Kreutzmann says that Jerry worked on a script for a film adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1959 comic science fiction novel, The Sirens of Titan. “I have the script and a full storyboard,” he explains. “One night I took Sofia Coppola and her friends to a Dead show and then we went back to Jerry’s and he gave us the new draft of Sirens of Titan to give to her dad. We brought it up to Francis and I was just thinking, ‘I’m gonna be in the middle of this. I’m going to be the conduit to make this film happen.’ But Francis was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t really see it.'”
Kreutzmann also notes that “there were a lot of incarnations” and mentions, “At one point I think Bill Murray was in talks to play one of the characters.”
Garcia purchased the rights to the book from Kurt Vonnegut and began working on a script with SNL writer Tom Davis is 1983. He discussed the project in a 1987 interview with BAM Magazine:
I have all the patience in the world about Sirens. For me it’s not a Grateful Dead project, it’s a Me project. My real interest in Sirens of Titan is preventing it from being made into a bad movie. So everybody who I meet in the movies, every contact I make—as I get closer and closer to the center of the cyclone, I turn more and more people on to the script, and onto the idea, and Tom and I work on it regularly. … we both are very much in love with the project.
Jerry went on to prove just how into the project he was as he delved deep into the narrative structure of the book, which he said “plays like a movie.”
Sirens of Titan is the one that goes—and also Mother Night, which I think would be a wonderful movie—it’s a simple enough, and a direct enough A-B-C-D, linear, Act One, Act Two, Act Three kind of dramatic structure—it would work as a play, it would work as a movie. … It’s like a triangle, a complex, convoluted love story. And it’s really that simple.
So our task has been to take the essential dramatic relationships, make it playable for actors, so that it’s free from the Big Picture emphasis of the book. The book is all kind of long shots, you know? But the ideas and the funny stuff and the human part of it…
In the same interview, Garcia said he had met with film director Jonathan Demme, who directed Talking Heads‘ iconic concert documentary, Stop Making Sense, but also indicated that he was “not in any hurry” to finish the project. “I don’t care how long it takes to see the screen, just as long as when it does go to the screen, it really goes well,” he said. “That’s my interest there, that I’m maintaining as much control over it as I can from my point of view, in terms of ownership of the screen rights and so forth, to make sure that it doesn’t fall into the hands of a hack. That’s the thing I fear most.”
Read the full Relix interview with Justin Kreutzmann about his forthcoming Jerry Garcia documentary here.