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  Last Waltz, The No Engelbert?Buy this film here.
Year: 1978
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Robert Manuel, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Ringo Starr, Dr. John, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Ronnie Wood, Martin Scorsese
Genre: Documentary, Music
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: This film needs to be played loud. It is a record of the farewell concert of The Band, that legendary country rock group as they decided to call it a day on Thanksgiving evening of 1976 at the Winterland Ballroom. Martin Scorsese was recruited to capture the event on film, and he was such a fan that he worked for free, this being such a momentous occasion a whole collection of equally legendary music talents was lined up to appear alongside them on the stage to really make a memorable night of it. The film itself kicks off with the encore as the adoring crowd cheer as the Band, with nobody else, prove why they are so respected and what a shame it will be that they will no longer play together...

Well, they did reunite in the eighties, but Robbie Robertson did not join them. Why was that significant? Because according to Scorsese's depiction of the group, they were basically Robbie Robertson and the Robbie Robertson Band, in one of the most blatant cases of fan worship ever seen from a major filmmaker. Nowadays when concert videos are ten a penny, and everyone is filming them on their phones for posterity instead of appreciating the moment anyway, it's instructional to watch how a professional would have approached what was basically a love letter to the musician the director loved the most. Not everyone has Scorsese's resources, which renders it even more interesting.

But even so, the constant placing of Robertson on a pedestal did grow rather too noticeable after about, ooh, a couple of minutes; almost every shot of the stage features him, even when the guests are on the cameramen (who would include among their number some pretty big talents) manage to get an out of focus Robbie strumming away behind them, so once you notice that nobody else really mattered to the film, you might be wishing for a more evenhanded style. That’s not to say the guest stars were not welcome, yet the impression was less "OMG, it's Bob Dylan!" and more "Lucky Bob Dylan, being able to share the stage with Robbie Robertson!" and you either went along with that or you didn't.

Scorsese, apparently not having enough footage for various reasons of what those involved wanted recorded, went back and shot some more on an MGM soundstage with The Staples Singers and Emmylou Harris, as well as a final bow where Robertson plays the most pretentious guitar imaginable, and these give some idea of what a rock video by the director would look like (at least until Michael Jackson recruited him to make Bad). He wasn't simply pointing the camera and hoping for the best, either, as every performance was shot and edited to fit the rhythm of the music, and that genuinely does make for a smooth experience, although the eccentricities and to be frank the sheer exhaustion of some of the acts, The Band themselves included, generate a few more bumps in the road than anyone might have wished for.

Neil Young's infamous cocaine on the nostril appearance is well-documented, and offers some idea of what was going on backstage, which should come as no surprise when you see the other members of The Band interviewed and they come across as stoned out of their minds, in spite of chainsmoking tobacco cigarettes all the time they are on camera. All these anecdotes and observations they deliver are a lot less easy to take seriously after you've seen This Is Spinal Tap, since that effort lifted the self-serious tone and applied it to the most ridiculous material imaginable, making it unintentionally amusing to return to their inspiration. But it's the music you'll be wanting, and no matter if this flavour of rock is not to your liking the lineup was undeniably impressive, offering renditions of plenty of familiar tunes you imagine would be fully endorsed by Whispering Bob Harris. Sure, a jumpsuited Van Morrison doing kung fu kicks looks a little undignified, and Neil Diamond spawned way too many "What was he doing there?!" complaints, but look, it's Muddy Waters, and Dylan's appearance is better than the whole four hours of Renaldo and Clara. Enjoyment depends very much on the viewer's reverence for the subject.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Martin Scorsese  (1941 - )

American writer and director who emerged as one of the brightest and most vital of the generation of filmmakers who came to prominence during the 1970s with his heartfelt, vivid and at times lurid works. After deciding against joining the priesthood, he turned to his other passion - movies - and started with short efforts at film school until Roger Corman hired him to direct Boxcar Bertha.

However, it was New York drama Mean Streets that really made Scorsese's name as a talent to watch, and his succeeding films, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (which won Ellen Burstyn an Oscar and is the only Scorsese movie to be made into a sitcom) and the cult classic Taxi Driver (starring Robert De Niro, forever associated with the director's work) only confirmed this.

Unfortunately, his tribute to the musical New York, New York was a flop, and he retreated into releasing concert movie The Last Waltz before bouncing back with boxing biopic Raging Bull, which many consider his greatest achievement. The rest of the eighties were not as stellar for him, but The King of Comedy and After Hours were cult hits, The Color of Money a well-received sequel to The Hustler and The Last Temptation of Christ kept his name in the headlines.

In the nineties, Scorsese began with the searing gangster saga Goodfellas, and continued with the over-the-top remake of Cape Fear before a change of pace with quietly emotional period piece The Age of Innocence. Casino saw a return to gangsters, and Kundun was a visually ravishing story of the Dalai Lama. Bringing Out the Dead returned to New York for a medical tale of redemption, and Gangs of New York was a muddled historical epic.

Still the Best Director Oscar eluded him, but the 2000s gave what many saw as his best chance at winning. Slick Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator didn't make it, but remake of Infernal Affairs The Departed finally won him the prize. Outlandish thriller Shutter Island then provided him with the biggest hit of his career after which he surprised everyone by making family film Hugo - another huge hit.

This was followed by an even bigger success with extreme broker takedown The Wolf of Wall Street, and a return to his religious origins with the austere, redemption through torture drama Silence. Despite being an advocate of the theatrical experience, he joined forces with Netflix for The Irishman, reuniting him with De Niro for one last gangster epic. He also directed Michael Jackson's Bad music video.

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