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"We wanted it to be more than a final concert. We wanted it to be a
In the fall of 1976, the band known simply as The Band (Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel) had been touring for almost 16 years. They had started out backing Ronnie Hawkins, ended up backing Bob Dylan, and in between had several hit records of their own. Their farewell performance at the Winterland Theatre in San Francisco included a star-studded line up of guest performers, and is filmed in accordance with a 300-page shooting script compiled by director Martin Scorsese, which includes revealing interviews with the members as well. The film is a technical breakthrough; it went far beyond the boundaries Woodstock had set for live-action footage. The film is a legendary benchmark for rock documentaries. Scorsese ensures that the music speaks for itself.
"The Last Waltz" is a passionate, symbolic toast to the glories of American rock & roll. Especially for those artists in the 1960s who took rock from its primitive foundations to a sturdier, more flexible form of music and expression. Although the quintet wrote many songs that helped define the era (e.g., The Weight, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down), several of the most inspirational songs in "The Last Waltz" are by other artists. The Band wraps itself around the style and talents of each guest artist, but never strays too far from its folk and blues roots. A wide range of musical guests: Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Dr. John, Emmylou Harris among many others. Martin Scorsese masterfully captures their interactions on stage, while off stage he interviews each member sharing their experiences from sixteen years on the road. While it certainly helps to be a fan of The Band, it's not essential in order to appreciate the film's eloquent accomplishments. From a technical perspective, it's undoubtedly one of the most impressive and authentic concert films ever made.
I have heard a few songs by The Band, but I am certainly not a fan, so it would seem that "The Last Waltz" would be a hard-sell to me but it was not. First, I found I enjoyed most of the music throughout the film--especially since I like rock 'n blues (and there is a strong blues/rock as well as country rhythm to the songs). How can you complain when you get to hear the likes of Muddy Waters, Dr. John, Eric Clapton and many, many others performing with The Band. Second, and much more importantly, I was very, very impressed with the quality of the film work. This was NOT a typical concert film where they simply stick up a camera and record the performances. To know more about this, watch the DVD extra for "The Last Waltz"--"Revisiting The Last Waltz". In this documentary, Robbie Robertson (from The Band) and Martin Scorsese talk about how they made the film--and it was really impressive. Instead of just stationing guys with cameras, EVERYTHING was meticulously planned and the camera angles and techniques show it. In addition to the live concert footage (which is the best I've seen), you have a few numbers that were done very well in the studio as well as interesting interviews. All in all, it's the total package--a very impressive and exceptionally well made film. While the music might not be to your liking, you can't help but admire excellent film making.
I won't drag this on long; too many other people have summed it up with
sufficient style and meaning for it to require another lengthy
contribution. What I will say is that it's the little moments Scorcese
captures that make this film for me; Robertson and Danko coming in too
early on 'Helpless' much to the amusement of a coked-out-his-mind Neil
Young; the little kiss Robbie gets from Joni as she comes onstage; the
wide smile of Danko, watching from his drums as Hawkins does a
masterful vocal turn on 'Who Do You Love'; the pathos of the second to
last scene, talking about those those who the road has taken.
Another stand out feature of this film is how great everyone looks. The drugs slim the band down, Robertson especially, and that emphasizes their features, magnifies emotion. The clothes are simple but fantastic; Dylan looks like the coolest man alive, Ronnie Wood's flamboyant jacket fits like a glove etc, the 70s were great for a lot of fashion and it shows here. Only Van Morrison, fat, drunk and balding in a tatty outfit is immune to the forgiving and flattering camera-work.
Other than that everything people says about this is true; the music is amazing, its beautifully shot, the interludes are cool, it evokes the period, it has sadness and euphoria, its paced perfectly. One of the best films of all time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Back in the late Sixties/early Seventies, a friend of mine introduced
me to a disparate range of musical performers, stuff I would never have
discovered on my own, but he persisted in having me borrow his albums
and I came to appreciate various artists and styles. Stuff like Ten
Years After, Canned Heat, King Crimson, Muddy Waters and the list goes
on. One of them was The Band, a group I immediately took a liking to
with their albums Music From Big Pink, The Band and Stage Fright.
"The Last Waltz" chronicles The Band's final concert appearance at San Francisco's Winterland Theater on Thanksgiving Day, 1976. There's probably no better venue for assembling some of the best musicians in the world in one place at one time, and music fans who weren't even born yet will appreciate the performances here from the likes of Ronnie Hawkins, Joni Mitchell, Paul Butterfield, and Bob Dylan. My favorite number was probably Neil Young joining The Band with a soulful rendition of 'Helpless', while Muddy Waters kicks out those blues jams with 'Ain't That a Man'. One of the surprising numbers comes from someone you wouldn't expect to see here, with Neil Diamond offering up a passionate version of 'Dry Your Eyes'.
Intersperesed with quickie interview segments, the film captures the emotional exhaustion of The Band's members as they come up on sixteen years of musical touring. I guess for them it was time to move on, even though a group like the Stones has more than doubled that tenure since this film came out. 1976, it seems so long ago.
As I write this, Levon Helm passed on a couple of months ago. Watching him as a vibrant and energized performer in this documentary was in sharp contrast to a concert appearance I saw him in just last year performing with his own band. On that night he didn't even sing because he was recuperating from an illness. It's sad to see these legends pass on, but having these moments captured on film and recordings allow us to relive their glory days any time we like. If you haven't seen "The Last Waltz" yet, it's time that you do. If you have, watch it again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is one of the best movies ever about music.
There is no way it could have been anything other than brilliant. It is directed by one of the all time great cinema directors (Martin Scorsese). It features the farewell concert of one of the top rock and roll bands of the 60's and 70's (The Band). It shows them playing with some of the top performers of that era (Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters). It also has revealing interviews with Band members about their careers and life on the road.
The Band are possibly overlooked in rock history because they broke up in the late 70's but this movie certainly shows their talent in all its glory. The musical versatility of Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel is a joy to see, both when performing as a group and with guest stars.
As well as concert footage from the farewell gig at San Francisco's Winterland theatre there are two music numbers recorded in a studio setting. One of these is a brilliant version of "Evangaline" with Emmylou Harris.
The interviews by Scorcese with group members are also a treat. At times, they appear to under the influence of unknown substances (especially Danko and Manuel, both no longer with us) but this only adds to the feeling that we are getting a glimpse into life on the road back in the wild days of 70's rock & roll. Robertson seems to be the "leader" of the group and interviews with him are interesting as they reveal his reasoning behind the split. It seems he couldn't take much more of life on the road.
Definitely a must see for any fan of this era rock and roll.
As long as The Band and it's highly talented roster of guest stars are
on stage The Last Waltz soars. Director Martin Scorsese's preparation
for this one take only scene opportunity of the concert portion has
cameras in the right place as well as a crystal clear audio track to
capture many performers at the top of their game on a chandelier draped
stage bathed in the same lush colorful light found on the damp New York
streets of Taxi Driver.
One by one rock stars from the previous decade and beyond take the stage and belt out a tune. Bob Dylan, Neal Young, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton even Neil Diamond and especially Dr. John doing "Such a Night" have bring down the house numbers. The night's outstanding performers are The Band itself. A group of five multi talented musicians whose passion for the art form put commercial success on the back burner in favor of just making music they electrify the stage with driving renditions of "Cripple Creek" "Mystery Train" and others. Drummer Levon Helm's powerful vocals are the group's high point despite attempts by lead guitarist Robbie Robertson to upstage. Robertson foolishly attempts to take on Eric Clapton in a battle of axes who in a calm, cool respectful manner vanquishes Robbie's swaggering.
Offstage the members fail to ignite with Scorsese's interviewing skills scattered and reverential. The boys are mostly shy (in the case of Rick Danko, high) and modest about their accomplishments with the exception of poser Robertson who has plenty of nothing to say to fan Scorsese.
There are two beautifully performed non-concert pieces featuring The Staples and Emmy Lou Harris adding to the musical feast that not only provides superior musical entertainment but also serves as a valuable timepiece to the end of an era. The dark age of Disco was about to begin.
For their final show (circa 1976) The Band assembled an all-star cast
of musicians and had Martin Scorcese film the event. The results are at
times brilliant and at times tiresome.
Considering that Scorcese was in the director's chair it's no surprise that the direction is better than you would normally expect for a concert film. The only exception is the Muddy Waters performance which, due to a miscommunication, was lucky to have been caught on film at all.
The music of The Band (and their guests) may not be to everyone's taste but if you're a fan then you won't be disappointed, at least by The Band's performances. On the other hand, Neil Diamond is out of place, Van Morrison over-sings terribly on his own "Caravan" and some of the other performances are comparatively lackluster. The most interesting thing, for me, was discovering that Robbie Robertson is underrated as a guitarist.
The documentary segments are interesting but the studio performances don't come close to matching the fervor of the live performances. The two-hour running time is a little disconcerting as well, considering that there are bound to be at least a handful of performances that you won't enjoy as much as the others. In my case, most of my favorite performances are over before the halfway point.
By now, the "story" behind THE LAST WALTZ is well known. It is a
concert film depicting The Band's "farewell concert" on Thanksgiving,
1976 at the Winterland. Thanks to Netflix, I finally was able to watch
THE LAST WALTZ. Among such other concert films as CONCERT FOR
BANGLADESH and STOP MAKING SENSE, it is a wonderful period piece,
capturing its era. The musical performances in this film are very
solid. The Staple Singers join in for part of THE WEIGHT, Van Morrison
makes a curious stage exit before his song is even done, and Neil
Diamond reminds us of the gifted songwriter he could be.
I really wish the film had just stayed with the musical performances. Unfortunately, we also get numerous "backstage interviews." These mar and slow down the pacing of the film and as such, these segments have not aged well. Most of The Band, speak in monotones and (no disrespect intended) but Rick Danko and Richard Manuel seem so drugged-out in these segments, it's no wonder they have since died.
I could give this movie a 10 were it not for the interview segments. Still, don't let that detract you. Hit the fast-forward button and enjoy some wonderful music performances.
As for what happened to the performers since then: Levon Helm did get into some acting, most notably in COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER. Robbie Robertson had something of a solo comeback in the late 1980s. Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Van Morrison have continued to write compelling new music. And Eric Clapton of course has had the most successful career since then.
One of the best rock concert-movies. It will bring back many great memories for the boomers and is great show for all the new rockers. A must see for music lovers. As far as Robby and Eric squaring off...Robby your good but is this really fair to compare him to Slow Hand? The special feature was great. The jamming scene not included in the movie is a who's who of Rock & Roll. On stage jamming, Neil Young, Ron Wood, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, Dr. John, Levon Helm,and Ringo Starr, were among some of the performers.
Martin Scorsese's stylish documentary/concert film 1978's "The Last Waltz" is one of the great and last concert films ever to come out in movies.It's mostly about The Band's farewell concert on Thanksgiving Day,1976 in San Francisco.Along with mostly concert footage,you'll also see interviews with the group's members all of which conducted by Scorsese himself.It also has some of rock n' roll legends such as Bob Dylan,Neil Young,Joni Mitchell,Ringo Starr,Neil Diamond,and many others which also makes the film surprising as it is.In the classic tradition of "Woodstock",and "Stop Making Sense","The Last Waltz" is brilliant in both directing and excellent camerawork and remains as one of the great documentary films ever made.A Real work of documentary filmmaking from a legendary filmmaker.Nobody does it better as Scorsese does!
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