The Last Waltz (1978)

The equivalent of witnessing Woodstock live. In the year 1978, Martin Scorsese and his cinema friends (including legendary cinematographers Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond) were invited to capture the final peformance of The Band featuring friends like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Neil Diamond, Ringo Starr and Van Morrison.

Two films saved the life and career of Martin Scorsese. Raging Bull and The Last Waltz. Following the financial and critical disaster of New York, New York De Niro was able to reinvigorate Scorsese’s quest in life by hatching the idea of Raging Bull. The film that reinvigorated Scorsese’s life through film was The Last Waltz.

The result is a concert film unlike any other. Utilizing the finest in 35mm film, his ensemble camera crew, and a detailed outline from Robbie Robertson highlighting each song, lyrics, and which member would be most essential to each note; Scorsese has furbished the finest of rock documentaries. While filming Woodstock, Scorsese hoped to capture The Band but was left with little due to the band’s shyness and vulnerability to the camera. Here, years later, Scorsese is able to capture the true essence of the legendary band and his close companion Robbie Robertson. The film keeps its entire runtime exclusively on stage with The Band. With it we are given an in depth look at the rhythm, technique and unbeliveable skill that it takes to pull off a performance of such caliber. This is especially featured with the performance of Bob Dylan as you see the signals given by each member involved as they transiton into “Let Me Follow You Down”. The lighting is perfectly choreographed to each note and lyric of the song so much so that it exemplifies the Catholic and Protestant subtleites of the music.

There is rarely a film that sucks me in as this one. I can watch it anytime, anywhere, no matter what point of the film its in. So many moments give me goosebumps. “The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down”, “Up on Cripple Creek”, ”The Weight”, “Ophelia”, Young’s ”Helpless”, a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Don’t Do It”. At one point in the film Danko gives Scorsese a tour of the Shangri-La Studios and plays him an early sample of “Sip the Wine” from his forth-coming 1977 album Rick Danko. I love watching the film now because I’ve seen many of the featured legends including Dylan, Eric Clapton, Emmylou Harris and of course Levon Helm.

This is music history. Captured by a master. Essential viewing for any lover of music…film…life.

– John

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