The Last Waltz

The Last Waltz
 
(Martin Scorsese, 1978)
 
☆☆☆☆☆
  
Reviewed by Dave Lancaster 
 
Summary: Often heralded as one of the greatest music documentaries of all time, the legacy of The Band and Scorsese’s filming of their last waltz remains true and beautifully powerful. 
 
The Last Waltz is many things but at its heart it’s a film about people and how they are transported through the gift of music. In the director’s chair to document it all and attempt to capture that enigmatic magic to film is master filmmaker Martin Scorsese - the ideal man for the job. 
 
Ever since Mean Streets burst onto the screen in the early 1970s, Scorsese’s narratives have brought intense action and soaring music together (sometimes through juxtaposition) to create truly compelling moments but The Last Waltz takes it up a gear. This is Scorsese’s concert film. His subject? The massively influence country rock / Americana band aptly named The Band whose music helped define a generation. 
 
 
Their decision to call it quits after a relatively short career blossomed from just the last gig on the tour calendar to an epic celebration (almost like an all-star living funeral) that then blossomed into a movie shot on 35mm film to give the event a truly cinematic aura. 
 
A veritable who’s who of rock, pop, country and blues artists were drafted in to make guest appearances for the breathtaking swansong and Scorsese and his incredible crew were on hand to make sure as much of it got in the can as possible. His cameramen included the likes of Michael Chapman (Raging Bull), Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), and László Kovács (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces). Suddenly, this wasn’t just a rock concert.
 
Logistically, all of this made for a nightmare. 35mm cameras at that time were not meant to roll for hours on end - they would, and did, overheat with the potential of vaporising the precious contents. They were also large and distracting for the musicians and audience alike. 
 
 
Another challenge was that rolls of film back then would only be good short blasts which is OK if you’re in a studio shooting dialogue but a massive problem when you’re filming a live gig with no breaks between songs. How do you time the reloads to ensure you’ve got coverage? There’s lights, camera and action but when that first note rings out there’s no “cut!” for another few hours. 
 
It’s a testament to Scorsese’s incredible planning (that consisted of using the song lyrics like lines in a script to time camera movements and lighting changes) that so much of the historic event made it out alive. 
 
The music, it goes without saying, is remarkable. And given the final nature of the gig, the emotion is palpable. Get Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Wood, Muddy Waters, Neil Young, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, Bobby Charles, Dr. John, Paul Butterfield, Emmylou Harris, Ronnie Hawkins, Joni Mitchell and The Staple Singers together and there’s going to be fireworks. What is so brilliant about The Last Waltz is that Scorsese doesn’t capture any of them as celebrities but rather as people overcome in a moment that otherwise may have been lost forever. 
 
 
BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
 
  • Limited Edition Hardbound Case (3000 copies)
  • 1080p presentation of the film on Blu-ray
  • PCM 5.1 Audio
  • Optional English SDH subtitles
  • Audio Commentary by director Martin Scorsese and Musician Robbie Robertson
  • Audio Commentary by "The Band" members Levon Helm and Garth Hudson, journalists Jay Cocks and Greil Marcus, creative consultant Mardik Martin, producers Jonathan Taplin and Steven Prince, Cameraman Michael Chapman, Music Producer John Simon, Irwin Winkler and performers Mavis Staples, Dr. John and Ronnie Hawkins (includes optional subtitles identifying who is talking)
  • Revisiting The Last Waltz [22 mins]
  • Archival Outtakes
  • Stills gallery
  • PLUS: A 100-PAGE perfect bound collector s book including writing on the film by Adam Batty, Greil Marcus and Robbie Robertson; an abundance of extremely rare archival imagery; extensive notes, storyboards and sketches from the film s production [Limited Edition Exclusive]

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