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Last Waltz, The (The Martin Scorsese Film Collection)  (1978)


Rating: PG

Distributor: MGM Home Entertainment

Release Date: February 8, 2005
Review posted: February 9, 2005


Reviewed by Dylan Grant




It started as a concert.  It became a celebration.  Join an unparalleled lineup of rock superstars as they celebrate the historic 1976 farewell performance of The Band – Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson.




Thanksgiving, 1976, Winterland Auditorium, San Francisco, California: after 16 years on the road, The Band was calling it quits in the first place they ever performed live as The Band.  More than a concert, The Last Waltz, the name given the event by the band itself, was meant as a celebration.  The original concept was to have a simple film recording, something the group could look back on.  They began talks with Martin Scorsese, who at the time was deep into production on New York, New York, and what started as a straight 16mm film of the event grew and grew, until they got to the end result, a full on theatrical spectacle.


That Scorsese had grander cinematic ambitions with this film is appropriate.  The show was accented by complex lighting concepts, the backdrop of the stage was a piece of set of La Traviata, and even the evening itself was something of a performance.  It began with dinner and dancing for 500, a real waltz, and there even someone who came out to recite the prologue from “The Canterbury Tales.”  The Last Walt was a singularly theatrical event, and Scorsese was able to turn The Last Waltz into something wholly and compellingly cinematic.


The music is the star of the film, and rarely has there been a gathering of so many important artists.  The end result is enough to make one nostalgic for a time never experienced firsthand, a time before concert going became such a monumental, regimented, mind numbing experience.  The music holds up well, and in some ways has never really left us, The Band’s more popular songs popping up in films and commercials left and right.  The performance is captured in such a way that we feel like we are there.


Between songs, The Band tells stories about life on The Road, coming to the U.S. from Canada, how they survived all that time, and this makes for the most compelling part of the film.  As Robbie Robertson says towards the end, “The Road has taken a lot of the greats,” and there is a feeling that The Band is getting out while they can.  Each story is part of a larger vignette that gives a new depth to the music we are hearing.  As the stories become darker, we see that life on The Road, life in The Band, is not all that glamorous.  As Robertson says, “it’s a goddamn impossible existence.”


That is the note on which the film is left, rather than the triumphant one we might be expecting.  We close with a shot of Robbie Robertson, looking burnt out and reflexive, as though the party is now over, and now he actually has an opportunity to look back on what it all meant.  Robertson looks as if he knows he only survived by the skin of his teeth.  A glorious final performance could only come out of nearly two decades of hard, impossible living.  There is something inspiring about that.




The Last Waltz is presented in the original 1.85:1 shooting ratio.  The transfer is pristine, with all color levels coming through sharply.  The theatrical lighting and the darkness is the audience is well translated.




This DVD is presented both in the Original Stereo Surround, as well as a new 5.1 mix.  The sound is the star of this film, and the presentation here is almost flawless.  All the songs come through crisply, as do the stories The Band tells in between numbers.




Audio Commentary With Robbie Robertson and Martin Scorsese: The two give some insight into what was going on behind the scenes during the making of the film and how it all evolved.


Audio Commentary With The Band and Others: The Band, collaborators and journalists talk about the experience of that final show, the influence of the group, and looking back 25 years later.


Archival Outtakes Jam 2: Before the last song of the night, some of The Band’s guests appeared on stage for an impromptu jam session.  That session was cut out of the film, but it is now available on this DVD.


Revisiting The Last Waltz: A featurette that talks about how the film was made, the challenges behind it, and how the film holds up all these years later.


Photo Gallery: Photos of the actual concert, studio shoots, the New York City premiere, poster and lobby cards.


Theatrical Trailer: The original theatrical trailer.


TV Spot: A television promo from the time of the film’s original theatrical release.




The Last Waltz is a vibrant recording of the last performance of this seminal rock group.  The performance is amazing, and the film is just as good.  The special features are detailed and interesting, and give us a new understanding of the making of the film.  This is the original rock film.




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