The Last Waltz (1978) / Documentary-Musical

MPAA Rated: PG for some language
Running Time: 117 min.

Cast: Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, Martin Scorsese, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond, Muddy Waters, Dr. John, Emmylou Harris, Van Morrison, The Staples Singers, Ringo Starr, Ron Wood
Director: Martin Scorsese


The Last Waltz chronicles the final concert for the highly influential and versatile group, The Band, in San Francisco of 1976.  Perhaps today, it is just as famous among film fans for being a documentary by Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy) as it is for the band itself, but once the film starts to roll, you're likely to quickly forget the director and be thrilled by the sounds of one of the premier live bands of its time.  You don't even have to be familiar with The Band to enjoy the film, as special appearances by some musical heavyweights abound.  Joining the crew are such luminaries as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Neil Diamond, Ronnie Hawkins, Muddy Waters, and many more. 

The opening words of the film implore us to turn the volume up loud, and for good reason.  All of the sounds are captured perfectly in the performance, in one of the best sounding concert films I've ever heard.  The sound isn't even the best part, as the visuals are even more impressive, with nicely edited sequences that never fail to miss any of the important action.  The cinematography is sumptuous, whether in the live concert or in the staged performances, with smooth camera movements and transitions that accentuate the mood and feeling of each of the songs quite well.

In between the live performances are snippets of interviews between Scorsese and The Band, where they discuss their history together, their thoughts on the music industry, as well as what inspired them to spend so many years on the road together doing what they do.  The film does assume a certain familiarity with The Band, as it doesn't really go into heavy background information as to the group's origins, but even if you're unfamiliar, it can still be enjoyed for what it is.  You can always research the other stuff later, if you're interested.

I must admit, I really didn't go into this film with much knowledge about The Band, or many of the songs they perform, but their eclectic nature and ability to jam in almost any direction they want to left me feeling a great deal of respect and admiration for them as musicians.  For anyone into the group, it's a must see, but even if you just love classic rock, folk, jazz, rhythm and blues, or country of the late 60s and early 70s, it is highly recommended for you as well.  It's considered one of the best concert films ever made, crafted with love from one of the great filmmakers of our time.

2005 Vince Leo