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Robbie Robertson remembers calling this film back in 1976 a document of
an end of an era and how ridiculous it was to call it that when all the
performers in it were still so young. The film is truly a magnum opus
for these performers as it celebrates the end for the Band, a band who
legendarily made music with greats such as Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters,
George Harrison, Eric Clapton and more. The majority of these
performers, and more, came out to pay their respect to the Band and
celebrate the music.
Whilst backstage it was reportedly a cocaine frenzy, on stage some beautiful music was being made at the concert. Performers diverse as Neil Young, Neil Diamond, Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Paul Butterfield, Van Morrison, etc. played with the Band and poets such as Michael McClure came on stage and gave readings.
Another gem of this film is the interviews that Scorsese conducted with different members of the Band and them as a whole as well as the music that was made off the stage (they said that the concert was too long as it was and that they would perform with other artists for the film)with such legends as the Staple Singers and Emmylou Harris. And also the actual waltz that Robbie Robertson composed is brilliant and haunting. Definitely recommended for someone looking to enjoy a great night of musical history and the thoughts and opinions of legends on music.
I have had the opportunity to read several reviews concerning
Scorsese's documentary aptly titled The Last Waltz. There are many
critics out there that denounce Scorsese for showing so much favoritism
to non-leader Robbie Robertson on-screen both during the interviews as
well as the concert. I have read other critics who hate the way that
Scorsese edited this film, bringing a Hollywood element to something
that was purely anti-The Establishment. Then there are others that see
this film as a farce. The Band may well still be together if it weren't
for this film and the persistence of Robbie Robertson. As I watched
this film a second time, I could not imagine anything further from the
truth. The Last Waltz was a near flawless documentary that did exactly
what it promised
it coupled amazing music (perhaps one of our last
glances of a now commercialized industry) with talented performers and
the giants of the scene paying respects to one of their own, The Band.
Scorsese opens this film with bold wording that I believe summarizes
this entire documentary as a whole. Those words are: THIS FILM SHOULD
BE PLAYED LOUD! An accurate way to tell if a music documentary is
succeeding is by turning the television off, but leaving the sound on.
If you are still enjoying the music at the end, the documentary has
The music if flawless in The Last Waltz. In fact, it is due to this film that I purchased the full recording of that infamous night. I wanted to hear Van Morrison's soulful voice again, I wanted to hear the strangely added Neil Diamond song (which now seems to be relevant in my mind), and I wanted to hear The Staples putting the song "The Weight" into a whole new galaxy. Neil Young's performance with Joni Mitchell in the background still continues to haunt me days after I finished watching the film. The ability to see the entire range of The Band in just a short 117 minutes is an astonishing feat. Scorsese did it. What makes The Last Waltz groundbreaking is the passion of Scorsese. I was worried at first that there would be less music and more spoken word from the band (which I could handle, if it weren't so much of Robbie Robertson), but Scorsese kept true to The Band, giving us more moments of song than "dance". For those technical junkies out there, sure, Scorsese blatantly favored Robertson more than the rest of the band, but this newbie didn't care. I was there for the music. For half of this film I closed my eyes and allowed, maybe for the first time, my ears to critic this film. What I experienced was a moment in music history that my generation will never experience, unless Coke has their corporate logo right above our artist's heads.
There are two people that I would like to give a bit of recognition to as I watched The Last Waltz. The first is the cinematographer Michael Chapman for his ability to bring a crisp, smooth, young feel to this film. Other music documentaries that I have seen typically are grainy and choppy at best, feeling as if you are sitting in the classic "obstructed view" seating of the concert. Not with The Last Waltz. Here, we are right up next to The Band. Impressively, and what I believe brought so much emotion to the songs that they were singing, was actually seeing their expressions on their faces as they sang or played their instrument. I felt like I was right up there with Danko, Helm, Hudson, Robertson, and Manuel. I also felt extremely excited each time a new guest would appear to join The Band with one of their songs. This excitement could only have been built by good music, strong direction, and powerful, captivating cinematography. Check on all three counts. The second person that I would like to give recognition to is Levon Helm. His vocals, passion, and dedication to each song inspired me. He seemed, and felt, more like the leader of this band than the apparent Robertson was. He seemed secluded, content, and when he hit those drums my heart would beat. This man is a music God. Did anyone else witness what he did on that Mandolin? Priceless.
Overall, this was a superb film that should be shown to every wanna-be musician out there in the world. I am tired of American Idol or millionaire teens telling me what I have to listen to and how I could never relate to it. Sure, maybe I am getting old, but that should not mean that the music needs to die. Scorsese preserved an infamous night in history. It is no Woodstock, but it was a photo finish. There was one moment in this film that really made me see the change of musicians in our modern society. The Band was on the road for sixteen years, and was finally calling it quits. I pose this test to you readers out there. Can you name one group within the past 10 years that has continued to tour time after time? Mr. Matthews comes to mind, but outside of that, I don't expect Jessica Simpson to keep her popularity going. If anything I would like to say "Thank You" to both The Band and Scorsese for making this project. If it weren't for them I would still be grumpily listening to the newest Shakira song wondering where music devolved. Now, my CD player enjoys this album. "The Weight" is still my favorite song on the album, but it is a near photo finish with the haunting Neil Young song. What a talented bunch of musicians that traveled, played for their fans, and sang about life. What more can you ask for?
Grade: ***** out of *****
This world would be poorer without Scorcese's film about the demise of
As advertised (in blurbs), it IS a celebration, but a bitter-sweet one, for there will never be another band/collective comprised of eclectic musicians capable of such an intuitive and heartfelt interpretation of the mid-twentieth-century rural AND urban American musical zeitgeist. But they were more than that.
"The Band" drew succour/inspiration from diverse roots: everything from 18th- /19th-century American folk, to contemporary music of its time which reflected the insecurity of the Vietnam War, changing social mores, and Dylan's plaint that "The Times they are a-changing".
Nothing makes this more plain (and more immediate) than the stellar cast assembled for the concert. There was a query as to why Neil Diamond was invited/attended. The obvious answer is/was that he represents the dying stages of a songwriting clique which will never exist again. Tin Pan Alley has gone, but its legacy is always present: as are the songs...
If one takes the interspersed interviews/dialogue with band members at 'face-value', then they form a picture of a struggling 'road' band which, at any time, could have ceased to exist. But they carried-on regardless and history (well... at least musical history) was made.
The 'boozy'/'stoned' dialogue between Scorcese and the band is also integral to the movie (for such it is). It not only 'humanizes' the narrative but, perhaps, also indicates WHY they were self-destructing.
Regardless of Levon Helm's 'hatchet-job' in his 'tell-all' interviews and autobiography, my (and, I hope, your) appreciation of "The Last Waltz" is that, regardless of detractors, it is quite simply one of the best concert films ever made.
Forget the vituperative and venomous fall-out. Sit back, turn it up loud, and ENJOY.
This celebration concert has all the ingredients to set any sound system on fire and it must be played loud. The Band themselves are simply sensational. Their story is typical of all bands when they start out. Literally stealing for a meal, and playing for love of it and not a chance to make any money. There are other standouts in this DVD and for mine there is always electricity on stage when Eric Clapton steps out. Bob Dylan and Neil Young are great and Joni Mitchell is simply brilliant. This was also my first encounter of Muddy Waters and his performance here has prompted me to go out and buy more. Raw music such as this deserves high status among other great musicians. Growing up as a teenager in the 70's and being a very one eyed roadie for a local Brisbane Band, it was not until the 90's that I started to appreciate the roots of today's music. Why these guys broke up when they were so good will remain a mystery but we will always have The Last Waltz.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An unmissable classic. Great music played with power & passion,
musicians on top of their game, the great Muddy Waters performing a
marvellous version of Mannish Boy, Rick Danko's vocal on Stagefright,
Levon Helm's throaty roar on The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, This
is Rock music at it's very best.
The first thing you see on screen is 'This film should be played loud' and so it must, turn the volume up and enjoy some amazing performances from some of the greatest artists of all time. One of strong points of this movie is the wide variety of musical styles and so if you appreciate diversity in music this is a movie for all music lovers.
Well, I do, and so should you. If you are young, then watch this and see (and hear) what real music is like. If you are older, then watch this and remember how wonderful it was. There's no point in poking holes in this movie. Just be grateful that Scorsese had enough foresight to get this magnificent concert filmed. I have watched it over almost 30 years, and it just gets better and better. I always turn it on thinking I will just indulge for a few minutes. Every time I end up watching until the end. Maybe if enough people watch this film and understand it, the level of popular music nowadays might actually go up.
The Band was perhaps the greatest musical group to ever write and perform music and The Last Waltz chronicles that fact. However if you want a detailed look into The Band from when they were first The Hawks, then Bob Dylans back-up band to becoming The Band as most people know them, read Levon Helm's book, "This Wheels On Fire". The Last Waltz is a great flick, but most of it was re-dubbed (Except for Helm's drumming and singing) way after it was in the can. Robbie Robertsons microphone was intentionally left off for this concert as Robbie wasn't the best singer and his comments during the film are pretentious at best. Enjoy the music of The Band in this film and see if you can detect the animosity between the rest of The Band members and Robertson during the interviews as Robertson was the one that wanted this flick to happen. He wanted The Band to disband. None of the other members did. And this breakup indirectly was a contributing cause of Richard Manuels death a few years later.
THE LAST WALTZ (1978) **** THE BAND: Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel; Special Guests: Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, The Staples Singers, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, Dr. John, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, Paul Butterfield, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Hawkins, Ron Wood, Ringo Starr. One of the greatest concert documentaries gets a spiffy new facelift with digitally enhanced sound and a color correction overhaul in Martin Scorsese's lightning-in-a-bottle account of seminal Sixties' rock and roll group, The Band, and their last tour of 16 tumultuous years on the road culminating in a sold-out concert at Bill Grahams' fabled San Francisco venue, The Winterland, with some pure rock, r&b, soul, countrified rock and roll with its all-star collection of music's greatest artists in tribute to a quintet of gifted musicians that truly were pioneers in American music.
This is one of the best things EVER...and I don't just mean in movies. With the exception of Neil Diamond, every single moment of this movie is magnificent. All of my favorite musicians in one rockumentary...The Band, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young. What makes the movie especially enjoyable are the little stories that the different Band members share. It makes them all seem like amazing, fun-loving guys. I was born after this movie was released, so I never got to see the Band perform...so this is as close as I can get. 10/10!
I recommend this film to a) any fans of The Band's music b) to anyone who
values passion in musical performance above technical precision and c) to
anyone who wants to expand their popular music tastes.
I first saw the film when it came out and it opened up several musical doors for me - growing up in an industrial city, I was mainly aware of hard rock and little else. The Waltz opened up blues, country, gospel and soul - the songs featuring individual performers like Muddy Waters and the Staples highlight distinct genres, then the Band performances of Robertson's material show how rock and roll mixes these genres together and makes them into a new brew entirely.
The part of the film that brought it together for me was when Levon Helm called Muddy Waters " the king of country music ". A real revelation.
Even sweeter is the fact that The Band is virtually an all Canadian creation.
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