Movie Review: The Last Waltz (1978) #AtoZChallenge


This is my entry for “L” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “L” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, Life Itself, and loudQUIETloud: a film about the Pixies.

Title: The Last Waltz
Release Date: April 28, 1979
Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Company: United Artists
Summary/Review:

I’ve never been particularly interested in The Band.  I mean, I like “The Weight” and some other songs that get the classic rock radio treatment, but I never delved deeper than that.  Nevertheless, I knew I had to watch The Last Waltz for the A to Z Challenge since its considered the greatest concert film of all time.  The Last Waltz captures The Band’s farewell concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving, 1976.  The audience dined on a turkey dinner while listening to poetry recitals (Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Michael Mclure appear int he film) followed by ballroom waltzing under crystal chandeliers.  And then The Band played a concert with some of their friends.

The Band have some pretty famous friends.  They were joined by Ronnie Hawkins, for whom they were the backing band in the early 1960s.  Another former boss, Bob Dylan, played a set of songs they worked on together in the mid-60s.  Other performers featured in the film include Paul Butterfield, Muddy Waters, Pinetop Perkins, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Dr. John, Van Morrison, and Neil Diamond. For the finale, everyone comes back on the stage and as the ultimate power move, they add a Beatle (Ringo Star) and a Stone (Ronnie Wood) to the backing band.  All the performances in this film are incredible and the audience certainly got what they paid for.

As far as concert films go, there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen in other concert films and music videos over the past five decades.  But it’s pretty likely that Scorsese and company invented this style of concert film that’s become the standard, using multiple cameras to record footage from all over the stage and venue.  During the wide shots you can see just how many camera operators are positioned around the stage.  Ironically, Muddy Waters performance of “Mannish Boy” is largely captured by a single camera, because all the other cinematographers were reloading film. It works out in the end as it presents a disarningly intimate portrait of Waters singing and leading the call and response.

The most fantastic performance of all is a version of “The Weight” featuring The Staples Singers, with Mavis and Pops each taking a verse.  I was impressed by the camera work on this performance as well until I realized that it was filmed on a sound stage after the concert rather than during the concert itself.  But I won’t complain, because The Staple’s make a great song a-MAZE-ing!!!  There are a few other sound stage performances mixed in with the concert footage, as well as interviews with The Band.  It’s surprising to hear Robbie Robertson say they’ve been touring for 16 years since he looks like a teenager here (he was actually in his 30s).

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

All these years I thought we were taking the load of Annie.  I was wrong.  It’s Fanny.  Annie, wherever she is, must still be weighed down.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Eight years later, Talking Heads and Johathan Demme made the next great concert film, Stop Making Sense.

Source: Amazon Prime

Rating: ****1/2


2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.