Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 


By 1976, the band known simply as The Band (Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel) had been touring for almost 16 years. They had started out backing Ronnie Hawkins, ended up backing Bob Dylan, and in between had a couple of hit records of their own. Their farewell performance at the Winterland Theatre in San Francisco included a star-studded line up of guest performers, and was meticulously filmed in accordance with a 300-page shooting script compiled by director Martin Scorcese. Including revealing interviews with the members of The Band, the film has become a legendary benchmark for rock documentaries.†

Review by Brad Green:
For all the superstars who appear on stage in this landmark rock-umentary, it is the offstage interviews that really star. The camera is a fly on the wall, and The Band members are encouraged to lazily reminisce. Fuelled by a ceaseless chain of cigarettes and coffee, they prattle on about the early days, the latter days, the influences and the excesses. It is not the cliches which are interesting, but the manner in which they are delivered. These are serious musicians who have worked hard, indulged hard, and long ago sacrificed any vestige of normalcy to the strange fates of their profession.†

It becomes clear that while all five members of The Band made vital musical contributions, it was Robertson who gave the group direction. He has the most things to say, the most important things to say, and he even stands out physically from the others. While 16 years on the road are written in their bearded, haggard faces, Robertson is clean shaven, and despite a world-weariness in his gaze, imbued with a kind of boyish look and charm.†

When they talk about their careers, they seem filled with a rueful, bittersweet nostalgia. On stage, however, these musos are in their element. All their big name guests seem thrilled to be there, and perform their final waves goodbye with gusto. Muddy Waters, at 65 years of age, demonstrates that heís still the Hoochie Coochie Man; Dr. John plays a rollicking piano thatís as splendiferous as his polka dot suit and bow tie; and Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, The Staples and Bob Dylan deliver such characteristic performances that they are almost microcosms of their careers.†

Scorseseís directing is all about unmitigated respect for the music. Every camera angle and movement was planned in advance to complement the song arrangements. There are lots of close ups, few audience shots, and none of the fast-cut, gimmicky editing of the MTV age. The sound is wonderful, and there is actually an edict at the front of the film that itís meant to be played loud. Each time we return to the stage after hearing what The Band members have to say, Scorcese wants to ensure that the music speaks for itself. After 25 years, it still does.†

Special Features reviewed by Andrew L. Urban:
Well, the first thing you do with this DVD is get out your air guitar, turn on the English subtitles for the hearing impaired (or any language of choice on the disc) and jam with the band.†

Once youíre exhausted and the full length mirror in your room is worn out, sit down with RevistingÖ. Itís not often you get a doco on the making of a doco, but thatís DVD for you. Martin Scorcese, in his rapid fire style, reveals what drove him to take on the project (while shooting New York New York), with producer/musician Robbie Robertson filling in the gaps. This is 20 fascinating minutes.

But wait, thereís more: two separate audio commentaries fill in just about everything about the making of the film, as well as the backdrop, and of course the challenges that had to be overcome. (Just a note on navigation: to turn on the commentaries you have to select one from the special features menu, and then select the underlined forward arrow on the menu, otherwise youíll go round in circles.)

Oh but wait, thereís more: the jam (outtake) at the end of the concert was filmed, and weíre talking over 11 minutes, with a line up of legends: Paul Butterfield, Eric Clapton, Dr John, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Carl Radle, Robbie Robertson, Ringo Starr Stephen Stills, Ronnie Wood and Neil Young.†

What more could you want.

Published September 18, 2003

Email this article



CAST: Documentary featuring Paul Butterfield, Eric Clapton, Rick Danko, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Emmylou Harris, Ronnie Hawkins, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Howard Johnson, Richard Manuel, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Robbie Robertson, Roebuck 'Pops' Staples, Ringo Starr, Muddy Waters

DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.85:1; DD 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary 1: The Filmmaker and The Musician; Audio commentary 2: The Band and others; Featurette: Revisiting The Last Waltz; outtakes, trailers; subtitles in English (HI), German (HI), French, Italian, Castellan, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: September 10, 2003

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020