The time was Thanksgiving 1976. The Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, California was the place where The Band, after 16-years on the road, would play their final concert. The event started as a concert. Popular acts joined the occasion to bid Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson fairwell. Intermix footage from the show with interviews of The Band, and two years you get The Last Waltz (1978).
(From left are Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, the members of The Band).
Directing the filming of The Last Waltz, from the concert to the interviews covering the road, was Martin Scorsese. The quintet forming the band originally existed as the backing group for Ronnie Hawkins known as the Hawks. Hawkins played in front of the band early in the The Last Waltz as a tribute to their combined roots as well as a fitting beginning of the story. The Band and Ronnie Hawkins played Who Do You Love?
(From left are Rick Danko and Ronnie Hawkins playing in the concert that became The Last Waltz).
In the film, the next guest star to perform musically was Dr. John performing Such a Night. Bobby Charles sang as Dr. John play guitar for Down South in New Orleans, which didn’t make it into the movie. version of The Last Waltz.
(From left are Robbie Robertson, Bobby Charles and Dr. John at The Last Waltz concert. Photo by Michael Ochs).
Neil Young followed Dr. John by playing Helpless with The Band. Besides the humorous fact that Young reportedly introduced himself to Neil Diamond off camera as Neil Sedaka, there’s another report that clear drug use through the concert was famously visible to those observant folks at the show. In the movie, three songs by The Band played, including The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. The Neil Diamond performance of Dry Your Eyes with The Band brought movie viewers back to guest performances.
(From left are Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Rick Danko, Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson at The Last Waltz concert. Photo by Neal Preston).
(From left are Rick Danko, Muddy Waters and Robbie Robertson at The Last Waltz concert in San Francisco).
(Eric Clapton at The Last Waltz concert in California).
All Our Past Times by Eric Clapton didn’t make its way into the film version of The Last Waltz, though be sure to look out for Further on Up the Road. Following the performance of Ophelia by The Band within the film, we do get to enjoy Caravan by The Band with Van Morrison. The full frame of the concert comes into view as Bob Dylan joins The Band in a rousing performance of Forever Young.
Closing the concert with I Shall Be Released, which included The Band, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Wood, Ringo Starr and others, was an especially nice touch. The style of exposition within this film is called a game changer in this review. Retrospectives since have tended to follow a more biopic orientation, as in The Doors (1991), Ray (2004), Walk the Line (2005), Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), and Rocketman (2019). Perhaps The Last Waltz, as a cinematic outcome, established more of the model followed by This Is Spinal Tap (1984). I did enjoy The Last Waltz featuring The Band and others. My 3.75-stars rating on a scale of one-to-five reflects this.
Matt – Saturday, April 11, 2020