Is it possible to feel nostalgic for a decade you never experienced? Either way, God bless Canada and the years between 1960 and 1976 for giving us The Band, and cheers to Martin Scorcese for giving us one of the best concert films ever made in The Last Waltz.
It sounds a little sentimental and Ann Landers-like to gush about a film like this, but after seeing the re-released rock movie 25 years after its first debut, the audience is literally reduced to a crazed fan reminiscent of the ones seen in Cameron Crowe’s recent film Almost Famous. Sure, it’s your parents’ music, but gosh darn it, that stuff is good. Scorcese shows us this and leaves the viewer wondering if music will ever be that good again.
The re-release of The Last Waltz includes a digitally re-mixed and remastered soundtrack overseen by one of the few remaining living members of the band, guitarist and front man, Robbie Robertson. In the film, he has the starring role. Roberson is thoughtful and eloquent. His band mates are a strong supporting cast. No, that’s not right, they’re more like a chorus from ancient Greek theatre, being interviewed by Scorcese in between performances from their last life concert, Thanksgiving Day, 1976.
It is hard to say which is more entertaining – the interviews of the band members or the performances, which include special performances by tons of great musicians including Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Neil Diamond, Joni Mithcell, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan.
The Band performs its hit songs “The Weight” and “Up on Cripple Creek” and it is unbelievable how good they sound and look. Scorcese had 16 cameras set up at the concert, and he caught every long-haired, side-burned move these guys made.
The lyrics stand alone as great movie making fodder. They are like dialogue full of witticisms and heart-wrenching lines. In “It Makes No Difference,” bassist Richard Danko belts out, “The sun don’t shine anymore. I never felt so alone before.” You can catch Danko looking right into the camera at points.
These guys love to tell stories, too. Some of the things they talk about: a one-armed go-go dancer in Fort Worth, Texas; shoplifting bologna; Jack Ruby; “cold psychadelia;” and the ’60s. Danko said that the time following their last concert was “the beginning of the beginning of the end of the beginning.” Each band member tries to tell a funnier story than the next, and they succeed.
In the film, band member, Garth Hudson relates listening to music to a religious experience. And so, let us say “Hallelujah!” Long live rock ‘n’ roll.