Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Band (and Dylan) in The Last Waltz

The Last Waltz is Martin Scorsese’s glossy souvenir of The Band's final concert on Thanksgiving night 1976 at San Francisco's Winterland Theater. With a major auteur behind the camera, The Last Waltz has more of the weight of a "real movie" than most rock documentaries, the majority of which have been made on the cheap, in 16mm and blown up to 35mm for theatrical distribution. Filmed in 35mm, Scorsese’s film looks more professional, but like most rock docs, it will likely appeal only to fans of its main subject.

The Band came to prominence in 1966. They were still known as The Hawks when they provided Bob Dylan with an electric arsenal that wowed and enraged his fans on a tour of Europe, preserved by Columbia Records on The Bootleg Series Volume Four: The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert (actually recorded in Manchester, hence the quotation marks) belatedly released in 1998. Following Dylan’s motorcycle accident, they holed up with the bard in Woodstock and made the series of delightfully crude recordings that came to be known as The Basement Tapes. The Band’s Dylan connection meant the world was listening when they released their debut album, Music from Big Pink, in 1968.

Dylan appears near the finale performing "Forever Young," "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down," and leading an all-star lineup on "I Shall Be Released."

In between the musical numbers with the other guest performers (Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Dr. John, and even Neil Diamond), there are interviews with The Band, most prominently Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson, in which they reminisce about music and light too many cigarettes. For the avid fan, this may be fascinating stuff. For the rest of us, it’s mildly interesting.

The Last Waltz
was billed as The Band's "Farewell Concert” which may have inspired all those other rock bands, such as The Who, in the dozen or so “farewell” tours they embarked on in the years to come.

Brian W. Fairbanks

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks


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