Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band is a confessional, cautionary, and occasionally humorous tale of Robbie Robertson's young life and the creation of one of the most enduring groups in the history of popular music, The Band. The film is a moving story of Robertson's personal journey, overcoming adversity and finding camaraderie alongside the four other men who would become hi brothers in music and who together made their mark on music history. Once Were Brothers blends rare archival footage, photography iconic songs and interviews with many of Robertson's friends and collaborators including Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison Martin Scorsese, Peter Gabriel, Taj Mahal, Dominique Robertson, Ronnie Hawkins, and more. In a career spanning six decades, Robbie Robertson has continued to create as a songwriter, producer, performer, actor, author and film composer. A half-Mohawk, half-Jewish kid from Toronto, Robertson would travel from the dives of Yonge Street to ...
"Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band" (2019 release from Canada; 100 min.) is a documentary about the Band. As the movie opens, today's Robbie Robertson addresses the camera and talks about his music-writing process. We then go back in time to the origins of the Band, as talking heads like Bruce Springsteen and Eric Clapton comment on how tight these 5 guys were, "like a brotherhood". We then go back even further in time, to Robbie Robertson's upbringing in Canada and how he was exposed to music at an early age. At this point we are 10 min. into the movie.
Couple of comments: this movie is directed by documentarian Daniel Roher, but more importantly executive-produced by Martin Scorsese (who of course directed "The Last Waltz") and Ron Howard. In the end credits, we learn that the documentary is "inspired by" Robbie Robertson's 2017 memoir "Testimony", and indeed this is very much Robertson's perspective on how things unfolded. The documentary is absolutely tops in its first half, where we revisit how Robertson, at age 15, wrote a couple of songs for Ronny Hawkins & the Hawks (where the drummer was a certain Levon Helms), and a year later he was invited to join the Hawks. Plenty of archive footage along the way livens up the big screen, and it's like sitting at the feet of a music history teacher. Indeed, Robertson proves to be quite the master story teller ("joining Bob Dylan was a detour but we decided it was a worthwhile detour"). The movie's second half is not quite as formidable, as we follow the Band's demise (leading to the brilliant 1976 farewell concert "The Last Waltz"), and the subsequent bitter falling-out between Helms and Robertson. But in the end, the proof is in the pudding: I couldn't believe how quickly the theater's house lights came back on, as the movie had simply flown by in no time. When in the last scene of the movie we watch them play "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" in "The Last Waltz" and we are reminded that it was the very last time these 5 guys ever played on stage together, I readily admit that I choked up. What a loss for rock music that was!
"Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band" premiered last Fall at the Toronto International Film Festival to great acclaim. It opened last weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati and I finally got a chance to see it this weekend. The Friday early evening screening where I saw this at was not attended well (3 people, to be exact), and I can't see this playing much longer in theaters. But it you are a fan of rock music history or simply a fan of the Band, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be in the theater (if you still can), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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