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The Last Waltz

Posted by admin | Posted in Movies | Posted on 15-09-2010


  • DVD
  • The Band
  • Format DVD

It started as a concert. It became a celebration. Join an unparalleled lineup of rock superstars asthey celebrate The Band’s historic 1976 farewell performance. Directed by Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull, Goodfellas), The Last Waltz is not only “the most beautiful rock film evermade” (New York Times) it’s “one of the most important cultural events of the last two decades” (Rolling Stone)!Amazon.com
Martin Scorsese’s 1978 capsule history of the Band is mixed with foo… More >>

The Last Waltz

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Comments (5)

Rumor has it that at the debut screening of The Last Waltz in 1977, Ronnie Hawkins stood up at the end of the film and remarked sarcastically, “That was all right, but it sure could’ve used a few more shots of Robbie!” By now, any serious fan of the Band will be familiar with the antipathy between Robbie Robertson and some of his former comrades. A quarter-century later, this classic movie’s disproportionate concentration on Robertson at the others’ expense not only remains palpable, it’s even more lopsided in the updated version. But for better or worse, that is a key part of the story of the Band; and in retrospect, the Last Waltz is surely an even more accurate documentary than Robertson had aimed for. More importantly, it captures one of the greatest concerts of the rock era.

As Levon Helm relates in his rather bitter memoir “This Wheel’s on Fire,” the decision to disBand was Robertson’s alone and the Last Waltz was a somewhat reluctant exercise on the part of the other four. This shows to varying degrees in the interviews which are dispersed throughout the concert footage: Robertson, who appears far more often than the others, looks animated and a bit rehearsed (although it’s hard not to feel some animosity towards him if you’ve read Helm’s book) while the others look tired or worse. (Helm’s description of Richard Manuel as “looking like Che Guevara after the Bolivians got done with him” is all too close to the mark!) While unflattering to a degree, the interview scenes do speak volumes about what the music industry did to one of rock’s all time greatest bands and the truth about the then-impending breakup. The Band did, after all, reunite sans Robertson as soon as they were legally able to use the name again without his blessing. The commentary itself is still interesting as well, particularly some of the saltier stories of life on the road in the early 1960s, a time too often thought of as rock’s “innocent” years.

But the music itself is still the most important part of the show by far. However uncomfortable things had become behind the scenes, these guys could still play like no other band before or since, and it’s almost magical to watch them do so for the very last time. Given Helm’s well-documented distaste for the whole project, it’s remarkable how happy he looks during most of the performances, almost as if the bad blood disappeared during those last few hours while they were doing what they did best together. The late Rick Danko’s showstopping solo performance of “Stage Fright” just might be the concert’s most intense moment, which is perhaps just as it should be given the subject matter of that song and the reality behind the scenes.

If there is any complaint to be made about the concert footage itself, it is that the guest performances by Hawkins, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters and Van Morrison featured here don’t necessarily do justice to the full brilliance of that night. The complete soundtrack (which was only recently released legitimately, after years of bootlegging) reveals stunning performances that didn’t make it into the movie, although Martin Scorcese claims in the retrospective documentary that this is only because he simply wasn’t able to shoot satisfactory footage of some of them. Nonetheless, the performances that did make the cut are superb across the board. Even the wildly out of place Neil Diamond does a decent job with his one song of the evening, even if I was left grateful that it was only one song. Best of all, we’re treated to dozens of unintentionally hilarious shots of Robertson singing with such emotion that the veins stand out on his neck – into a microphone which, as Helm gleefully recounted in his book, wasn’t plugged in. (This was no accident; guitar genius though he was and is, Robertson’s vocal abilities always paled in comparison to those of Helm, Danko and Manuel, who also delievers a number of touching performances here.)

The new footage consists mostly of Scorcese and Robertson reminiscing about the making of the film; it’s predictably self-congratulatory, but fairly informative. More interesting to me, though, are recollections spread throughout the show from a wide variety of people who were involved with the project in various ways, playable as voice-overs with any given part of the concert. After 25 years, these provide a perspective on the event and its meaning through the eyes of someone – or really, many someones – other than Robbie Robertson. Perhaps this was the original intent behind the movie. In any case, it should have been. The new perspectives and footage are an undeniably nice touch, but the music still stands alone, and it sounds better than ever. It all makes for a new and improved look at one of rock’s all time great events.
Rating: 5 / 5

MGM really did an outstanding job with this release. The movie itself is justly celebrated as one of the greatest concert documentaries of all time. The Band is brimming with energy and they play their farewell concert, and the music sounds fantastic in the 5.1 mix. You don’t even have to be a huge fan of The Band to enjoy this movie, as long as you like classic rock. There are so many guest stars that join The Band, including Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, The Staples Singers, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and many others.

There are two outstanding commentary tracks on this dvd. One of them features director Martin Scorsese and Robbie Robertson (of The Band). Over the course of the film, they provide a great deal of insight into the making of the documentary. Equally valuable is the second audio commentary, which features many participants (the other surviving Band members, a few of the guest performers such as Dr. John and Mavis Staples, and several crew members, among others). Although the many participants were recorded separately, the track tightly edited with nary a dull moment. A nice touch: you can select a subtitle feature which will bring up the name of the person who is speaking while the commentary plays.

If all that weren’t enough, the 20 minute featurette contains good recent interview footage with Scorsese and Robertson. And there is a 12 minute outtake which is an all-star jam session (the instrumental jam itself isn’t all that exciting, but with that kind of line-up it’s well worth watching). Even the Still Photo gallery had more care put into it than most dvds, with the photos divided into three sections, many featuring captions to identify what we’re looking at.

The movie itself looks and sounds so good, it justifies the purchase. But the supplemental material puts this way above the 5-star level.
Rating: 5 / 5

“The Last Waltz” was one of the very first films I ever purchased new on VHS, and I have enjoyed it consistently for the last 12 years. This movie captures one of the most symbiotic relationships between music and film I have ever seen. Martin Scorsese only had one chance to get this movie right, and he did a great job.

Watch the closeup footage of Levon Helm engulfed in a cool blue light while belting out an amazing version of “Ophelia”. Watch Joni Mitchell filmed in a silouhette backstage as she secretly sings backup to Neil Young’s “Helpless”. Watch Dr. John’s hands float effortlessly over the piano keyboard while performing a rousing version of “Such A Night”. Watch Rick Danko as he curiously peers over at Bob Dylan, completely unsure of what song they are about to launch into next. Filled with countless moments like these, “The Last Waltz” is pure enjoyment to the very end.

Since falling in love with this movie, I have learned that drummer Levon Helm was a very uncooperative participant in the production of the movie. He was not ready for The Band to quit, he believed that Robbie Robertson wanted to make this movie only to further his “rock star” persona, he did not like the fact that Neil Diamond was involved in this project only because Robbie Robertson had just produced a record for him, and from Day 1, he did not like Martin Scorsese.

Knowing that, it is interesting to note how removed Levon seems to be during the interviews, and how much Robbie playes the “Rock Star” role, professing exhaustion from the road, and not knowing how he can go on with this lifestyle.

I am not saying that Levon or Robbie is right or wrong, I am just saying that it is interesting to watch this movie knowing how at least one of the members of the group felt about the project.

If you care about music and quality filmaking, “The Last Waltz” should be part of your permanent collection.
Rating: 5 / 5

To paraphrase a song by The Band. “A hippie’s dream..if I ever did see one”. Filmed in 1976, The Last Waltz captures the end of an era beautifully. The lighting has a dream-like quality to it. I guess if our generation died and went to heaven, this would be the closest thing. It centers around The Band and their magnificent musicians (Robertson, Danko, Helm, Manuel and Hudson) plus great performances by Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, the great Muddy Waters, Neil Young, Dr. John, Emmylou Harris and more! The DVD also includes audio commentaries, behind the scenes features and great digital audio. After 1976, we were bombarded with disco, new wave, and punk leading us into the techno 80’s. This film represents the music of the post-hippy late 60’s and early 70’s best. It is intelligent rock music performed by my some of the greatest names in rock history. This is one of the finest music films ever made. It comes across more like a movie than a concert and offers us a greater depth of understanding behind the personalities that dominated and influenced music during that period. Outstanding!
Rating: 5 / 5

Any music documentary that makes Neil Diamond look cool has got to be something worth indulging. Not only does Martin Scorcese provide the most coherently interesting document on one of the greatest bands of all time, he provides a wonderful entry into the music that held lasting influence on many of the period’s greatest artists. In one concert you have Muddy Waters, Ronnie Hawkins, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Dr. John, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan. What sets this apart from other concert films, are the interviews with members of The Band and the tension captured in the live performances; the pacing is dead on. You hear about the early days of touring, playing harp “til your lips bleed”, and the truth about how touring takes its toll. What makes this more than just another concert film is Dylan’s closing performance, as well a performance portrait of The Band as a headliner and then The Band as a backing ensemble. My point being, run, don’t walk, and get this for your collection. The only downside to owing this masterpiece is the realization that they simply no longer make ’em as good as Robbie (rock’s greatest guitarist bar none), Levon, Garth, Rick, and Richard (greatest voice in rock). Neil Diamond’s glitter never shone so brightly!
Rating: 5 / 5

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