Pulsing with bottled lightening captured through multiple cameras and one director choreographing things around every tune, The Last Waltz draws you in making you feel complicit in the activity.
There have been enough eulogies written about the concert movie which defined how others would be made. Enough words written about the circumstances around its documentation, famous director and soundbite talking heads intercut with studio songs and concert footage. The Band as fronted reluctantly by Robbie Robertson portrayed a group of musicians who could actually play. Songwriters with experiences which bled into those tunes, relationships that occurred by accident but were laced with a sense of serendipity.
Even if you have no idea who these players were, what this music meant to people at the time or consider concert films hugely self-indulgent, there is no denying how powerful The Last Waltz remains. Like a nicotine stained mid-Seventies microcosm of rock n’ roll authenticity these men are depicted as musicians of worth with laid back sensibilities. Talking from a point in musical history long since passed it stands as a reminder to those who come after. Bunched onto the stage which is decked out in full regalia with chandeliers, ornate set dressing and an unwashed sense of expectation, these guys were the real deal.
Pulsing with bottled lightening captured through multiple cameras and one director choreographing things around every tune, you are drawn into the room and feel complicit in the activity. Done primarily as a celebration of having survived sixteen years on the road there are stories wistfully exchanged, undisclosed decadence passed between glances, while that music ties the room together. The Last Waltz is not only a cultural time capsule but thanks to that director has sweeping camera moves, cutting edge ideas and bold creative choices fighting for attention. Few concert movies since have been able to capture that on stage feeling or been brave enough to focus on the performer. Reaction shots from audience members looking in are non-existent, while only those in the front row are frozen forever on film enraptured by this down and dirty display of virtuoso musicianship.
For those who feel this is a fossil of irrelevance from a bygone era neither pertinent, important or worth investing in think about it like this. The Last Waltz is a movie, contains a narrative, has headline stars of the day name checked in that opening number and contains historically important musical influences. These are not fictional characters dreamed up by someone sitting round a pool between breakfast and lunch, but real musicians of substance. My advice is to find the biggest screen and best sound system possible, close your door and just experience their moment in time.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: n/a
Starring: Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson
The Last Waltz was released on UK Blu-ray on November 12, 2018.