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This is a documentary of one concert, The Band's final concert,
interspersed with mildly interesting interviews. They are very talented
traditional rock musicians, but unless you're a fairly big fan of their
music you'll probably end up bored with this movie. Or, if it's on TV,
you'll be flipping around to other channels to see if anything better
For exaggerated reasons that frustrate me, this film is constantly listed among the greatest rock-documentaries of all time. It's not. Perhaps it's over-rated simply because Scorcese directed it. Perhaps it's overrated because some of the camera angles are pretty cool. Perhaps it's overrated because of all the big-name musical guests who appear. But, none of the guests are in their prime, save Dr. John who never seems to age and Neil Young who never seems to change. But, still it's not their best performances. And The Band needs guests to sustain interest. Afterall, this is "The Band" so-named only in relation to other musicians-- their major claim to fame is that they played as Bob Dylan's backup band in the 1960s. Robbie Robertson is handsome, but a terrible singer. The guitar parts are boring (One Dylan biography even described The Band's inability to intuitively jam on stage when Dylan began noodling on his guitar), yet their playing ignores the folk and blues derived melodies, and the originals all sound alike.
The film is highlighted, musically, by Dr. John smiling and playing piano, Muddy Waters standing there and singing on The Band's lackluster performance of "Who Do You Love," Bob Dylan's cool hat, Emmylou Harris looking pretty during a rehearsal, The Staple Singers stealing the show on "The Weight" (it's hilarious when the film goes back to the band, when the bass-player sings the verse, he looks so unprofessional and goofy in comparison to the Staples' authentic soul. The Staples really helped the set!), Joni Mitchell's weird, aimless song, and that's about it. Van Morrison looks fat and miserable. Neil Diamond sings an old classic of his without verve or variation (or movement). Neil Young seems distracted during his dull performance (but Scorcese doesn't even show the cocaine on his nose). And, the best part is probably the encore-scene, just the Band playing "Greensleeves" on old-timey instruments while the credits role. But it's only the names that appear that are historic, none of the performances are really historic. I guarantee this film won't last. It's all hype. It's not interesting enough (and The Band is not charismatic enough) to sustain itself through generations.
There are some kinda-amusing, but overall meaningless anecdotes told by The Band during interviews, placed in between songs... but mostly it's just them jabbering about their embarrassingly half-thought ideas about the world (While not quite as stupid-sounding as the parody-interviews in "This Is Spinal Tap," Robbie Robertson still does come off as a high-blown dumbass) and why the music they like is the best music in the world, which is supposed to give credence to their overall-mediocre originals.
Also, what's with the confederate flag hanging behind them in their kitchen, or trailer, or wherever it is they're being interviewed. They're from Canada! (Except for Levon Helms, who plays his drums hunched over like a praying mantis-- cute.) Are we supposed to like these guys? The Last Waltz truly exposes them as a bunch of derivative, blown-up musical hacks who possess both fake accents and a freakish obsession with the American south.
There is talent on display in "The Last Waltz," and often, but unfortunately it's usually it's aimless and floundering. The overall affect can be boredom if you're not already a hardcore fan. However, the documentary is a worthwhile watch if you're bored or interested in learning the stories behind rock bands.
Dylan never even considered these guys his best backup band. He knew.
This film does a great job chronicling the entire history and career of The
Band. The 35mm format makes the film that much better, and the intricate
camera moves also elevate the experience.
It was called "the end of a generation." The final concert The Band would ever play. It was great.
A headstone at the end of the road.
In a way, this is the film equivalent of the Rolling Stone's weary, drug-addled 70's masterpieces like "Exile on Main Street." Man, these guys look TIRED. Not one is even 40 yet, but they all sound like they are speaking from beyond the grave. It's hard to imagine that this movie has inspired anyone to pick up a guitar and go on the road. It almost comes off as a cautionary tale, a VH1 Behind the Music without the second-act redemption. The stench of drugs, desperation and defeat are truly palpable.
I think the musical performance here is somewhat overrated (most of the many great moments are provided by the guest artists, not by The Band), but as a document of a certain moment in time, this film has no peers.
The Band was a fine group of musicians who put out some great songs.
Marty Debergy (whoops, I'm getting ahead of myself) decided to film it
in an apparent attempt to be more 'personal' than that of "Don
Kirshner's Rock Concert", and failed utterly. Intercutting (including
with hard audio cuts - I guess music is a visual medium to Scorsese)
lame attempts at interviews (attempting, occasionally, to star
himself), Scorsese manages to make a group of wonderful songs (and
singers) into a fairly tedious exercise.
"Spinal Tap" (by Rob Riener) skewered this movie and its flaws so completely that I cannot even look at the title without thinking of 'Tap'. I bought the (triple - vinyl) soundtrack, and it is a much more enjoyable without any of the drek of the movie. Check that out instead.
For those who annouce this as the 'perfect' concert movie, I point them at "Rust Never Sleeps", made only a year later but a far better 'concert experience' movie.
THE LAST WALTZ is an enjoyable viewing if you're a fan of THE BAND and the
performers that join them on their final show. Shot with 35mm and adorned
with a magnificent stage design, the images are stunning. On the other
hand, Scorsese's interviews are weak, his staged sequence of "The Weight"
forgettable, and final montage a complete bore. Than again, not liking THE
BAND makes me biased so I don't want to go on some ignorant rant.
I mean, I discovered Robbie Robertson is a cool dude, two members of the group have since killed themselves, and that Scorsese is a madman. Still, if you want a picture that truly captures the spirit of rock, let me suggest GIMME SHELTER. Although not as stylistically elaborate or well conceived, GIMME SHELTER is ten times more entertaining.
Take a fine director, great camera work - at 35mm, mix with THE
BAND at their height and just about anybody who could play well
enough to appear on the same stage with The Band and you have
The Last Waltz.
Robbie Robertson and Marty Scorsese set the bar as high as it
could go with this film.
The DVD has some great interview material and a couple of
additional extras as well as really great sound!
If The Band, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton,
Ronnie Hawkins, Paul Butterfield, MUDDY WATERS!, Ringo Starr,
Ron Wood, Neil Diamond (?), Emmylou Harris, the Staples
Singers, Van Morrison and Dr. John are your idea of musicians -
this is your film!
Everybody is outstanding and The Band is on fire...but Ronnie
Hawkins and Dr. John give over-the-top performances in a concert
with nothing less than fine performances by all.
After 16 years together The Band decided to call it a day and got
together for one final gig in the San Francisco club where they first
performed properly as "The Band". Supported by a range of "friends" who
may be recognisable to some sharp-eyed rock and roll fans, the gig was
captured by Martin Scorsese as part of a documentary looking at the
band and their final show called "The Last Waltz".
Although I know some of their music I was not familiar with The Band, so I came to this film on the strength of recommendations of other viewers who know what sort of music I like as well as the fact that this was a Martin Scorsese film. Despite that I immediately got into the film although I do recognise that those looking to this to fulfil the "documentary" side of things will probably be disappointed. In this area we are left with very little talking and, although it is relaxed and engaging, it is hardly that informative beyond providing basic information and the odd nugget here and there. No, this is not a "documentary" in the way that the term would suggest, instead this is a concert film and a very, very good one at that.
With a vast array of guests joining The Band on stage, this is an impressive gig. The songs are mostly memorable and there are very few performances that could not be described as at least "good". The list of names should be enough to interest you (unless you honestly have zero interest in the period or the type of music) as those popping up in support include Bo Dylan, Neil Diamond, Dr John, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Neil Young and Van Morrison to name a few. I cannot imagine many people struggling to enjoy the music and, if you enjoy some of it then you will more than likely just about all of it. The Band members are all impressive on stage and they also come over as very natural, chilled and funny in the interview sections.
Overall this is an impressive and enjoyable concert film. As an informative documentary it falls down by not having a lot to teach the audience, however this is a minor complaint because the interviews are still fun and the main focus of the film is the music. This aspect is great and I enjoyed almost all the artists and songs. Well worth seeing if you like great music performed by some great artists.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this in the cinema with some friends from college when it was
first released. I could not remember any of it. I didn't try to. Now,
about 28 years later, I buy the powered-up DVD version for half nothing
and settle down to watch.
OK, get this out of the way first. One point for Neil Young: sings from the heart. One point for Van Morrison: sings from the soul. One point (should be several, but then you might get the wrong impression at first glance) for Muddy Waters: showing everyone how it should be done.
Who messed up whom? Did The Bland make a fool of Bob Dylan and turn that fine word-smith into another mediocrity straining after effect? Or did Bylan turn The Bland into this cod folk-rock band with a taste for everything and nothing?
Think about the campy stage set. Hey, what a send up! Someone knew what this junk was all about. Maybe a point for him too, yes?
The DVD goes to a charity shop tomorrow.
This doc of The Bands' final concert is of more historical than musical interest. By 1976 The Band were at least 4 years past there peak and at times they give the impression here of a group that had played together just a few too many times. The interviews are shallow but Robbie Robertson still manages to come across as one of the smuggest people ever. It's worth catching for some of the guest performances - The Band manage to temporarily wake up when Ronnie Hawkins is on, Joni Mitchell is brave enough not to trot out a greatest hit. The highlight though is watching Van Morrison 'dance' during Caravan - a unique performance never imitated. The lowlight is some chap called Robert Zimmerman performing a bad Bob Dylan impersonation doing one of the master's greatest songs Forever Young. To some up an interesting look at mid-seventies rock aristocracy. Younger viewers might just feel that punk arrived just when it was needed most.
I happened across this on Turner Movie Channel the other evening. It was
shown in widescreen. I didn't recognize the musicians at first, and then I
saw this great drummer who was also singing, and really belting out the
songs! It was Leroy Helm, who played Loretta Lynn's Daddy in "Coal Miner's
Then I heard the interviewer, and I recognized that voice. "Damn, that's Martin Scorsese!" I said out loud.
I was sorry I came in late on this, because the music was fantastic, and it was a thoroughly fascinating documentary about rock music. There were so many late 70's rock stars singing, and I was just sorry that Linda Ronstadt and Kris Kristofferson weren't part of it.
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