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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 7/22/02

The Last Waltz
Special Edition - 1978 (2002) - MGM Home Entertainment (UA)

review by Matt Rowe of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Last Waltz: Special Edition Program Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/A-

Specs and Features

117 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1:85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual layered (layer switch at ???), Amaray keep case packaging with slipcase, audio commentary with (music critics Jay Cocks and Greil Marcus, producers Jonathan Taplin, Steven Prince and producer Irwin Winkler, music producer John Simon, musicians Levon Helm, Ronnie Hawkins, Garth Hudson, Mac "Dr. John" Rebennack and Mavis Staples, director of photography Michael Chapman and creative consultant Mardik Martin), audio commentary (with musician Robbie Robertson and director Martin Scorsese), Revisiting the Last Waltz "behind the scenes" documentary, 4 photo galleries, theatrical trailer, TV spot, archival outtake jam, film themed menu screens with sound; scene/song access (34 chapters - see track listing below), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned


That line is emblazoned across the opening sequence of this film. Consider it the ribbon that wraps a package that is, once unveiled, a graceful and wonderfully historic moment in the account of rock music. The Last Waltz, a farewell to one of rock's most prolific acts, is a concert film/documentary extraordinaire that ends up becoming a celebration for an era. Helmed by Martin Scorsese, this paean becomes something more than celluloid; it becomes a song unto itself. Last Waltz is a work so profound that few after it have replicated its intensity. It possesses a beating heart and a living spirit, creating a timeless entity.

Designed as a final show for a retiring, and tiring, group named (quite simply) The Band, The Last Waltz grew in size until it became much bigger than the sum of its parts. After spending a grueling 16 years on the road, 8 in bars and roadhouses and 8 in arenas, The Band decided to call it quits. They collectively determined to stage this final show at Bill Graham's Winterland on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1976. It's all history after that. The show, a distribution of talent with The Band at its core, showcases many of the popular names that embody this time and place. And it can still bring tears to my eyes.

The members of The Band: Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel, recount, throughout this movie, a varied history of their travels and experiences along the way. These anecdotal pieces, stitched between grand performances and memorable songs, become the reasoning behind their intent to close the curtain. Without them, the purpose of the film, as a statement, gets lost in the overwhelming beauty of its presentation. They allow the brief glimpse into the lives that made up The Band and, in so doing, allow us to become a part of them.

There are great songs performed by many here; by Ronnie Hawkins (who gave The Band their start, more or less, with a rousing Who Do You Love) and by Mac "Dr John" Rebennack with his jazzy cool Such a Night. There is Neil Young with Helpless, Joni Mitchell with Coyote, Butterfield with Mystery Train, Neil Diamond with Dry Your Eyes (coincidentally, Robbie Robertson produced Neil Diamond's Beautiful Noise from which Dry Your Eyes sprang) and Muddy Waters singing Mannish Boy. There are other luminaries on hand as well, including Bob Dylan (who provided the forum from which The Band's popularity soared) and Eric Clapton.

Mixed into this incredible array are the songs for which The Band is best known, performed by them: Don't Do It, The Shape I'm In, Up on Cripple Creek and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. And there are others diamonds found on this disc as well. There's an extremely satisfying performance of The Weight, with The Band being joined by The Staples Singers for an unforgettable rendition. The selection of songs on this disc is nothing short of delightful.

But just listing the performances by these artists is a grave injustice. You must watch, and become a part of, their sets to fully realize the importance of The Last Waltz. There is a feeling of community that you identify with as you watch each successive performance. It's a complex state that you find yourself in: awe of style, reverence of talent and a feeling of love as you meld with this show. You are not just watching this movie; you are spiritually intertwining with it. Their elation is yours and belongs to you as much as it belongs to them. You may never see a greater collection of performers together at one time again.

To say that this is simply a concert film depicting the musicians of that time is criminal. The Last Waltz is an absorption of the 60s and 70s - a culmination of an era. Although the 70s existed for 3 more years before giving way to the electronic pulse of the 80s, this film brings closure to a time of astonishing diversity in music that defined its generation so completely.

The disc by MGM, presented in anamorphic widescreen detail, is beautifully and lovingly reworked to give us this enduring document. The colors are vibrantly displayed and the detail is perfect. I'm not surprised either, given the fact that Martin Scorsese was involved. This is concert footage shot in 1976 and yet you have to be impressed with the picture quality. The audio is equally spectacular. Mixed in Dolby Digital 5.1, as well as the requisite 2.0, the channels are all in good use. The 5.1 rear channels are very active and provide an immersive feeling that only serves to enhance the absorption of the film. Remember, 1976!

The extras are sweet on this DVD. To start with, there is audio commentary - two sets actually. Band members and other musicians, along with filmmakers and historians, provide the first track. The other features Scorsese and Robbie Robertson. In addition, there is an incredible impromptu jam by many of the musicians. Imagine, after the show, to be treated to this spectacle. The visual portion of the tape gives out after 10 plus minutes, but the audio remains for an extra minute. There's also an incredible arrangement of gallery stills, four sets, with descriptions that inform you of every nuance of the event, from poster art to photo captures, from promo shots to lobby cards. Also included are the trailer and a TV spot for the film. And all this is topped off by a behind-the-scenes featurette - in effect, a devoted recollection. Finally, a collectible 8-page booklet written by Robbie Robertson himself is tucked into a case that is adorned by a striking embossed slipcase.

I could ramble on and on about the necessity of this film and its inclusion in every music fan's library. Who wouldn't? And I may have stepped into a "twilight zone" of sorts for some of you younger music fans. That shouldn't preclude any of you from seeking out and intimately appreciating with this film. For those not of this particular time or era, I suggest that you watch The Last Waltz with an open heart. You'll come away with admiration for the multiplicity of styles that defined a generation. And you'll see how it influenced, whether you know it or not, today's Rock and Roll.

This review is dedicated to the memory of:

Richard Manuel - April 3, 1943 - March 4, 1986
Rick Danko - December 29, 1942 - December 10, 1999

Matt Rowe
[email protected]
Visit Matt Rowe's MusicTAP ------ Music Flows There!

Track Listing:

Don't Do It - The Band
Theme from the Last Waltz - The Band
Up on Cripple Creek - The Band
The Shape I'm In - The Band
Who Do You Love - Ronnie Hawkins/The Band
It Makes No Difference - The Band
Such a Night- Dr John (Mac Rebennec)/The Band
Helpless - Neil Young/The Band
Stagefright - The Band
The Weight - The Band/The Staples
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down - The Band
Dry Your Eyes - Neil Diamond/The Band
Coyote - Joni Mitchell/The Band
Mystery Train - Paul Butterfield/The Band
Mannish Boy - Muddy Waters/The Band
Further on up the Road - Eric Clapton/The Band
Sip the Wine - Rick Danko
Evangeline - The Band w/Emmylou Harris
Genetic Method - Garth Hudson
Ophelia - The Band
Caravan - Van Morrison/The Band
Forever Young - Bob Dylan/The Band
Baby Let Me Follow You Down - Bob Dylan/The Band
I Shall Be Released - Everybody w/Ringo Starr & Ron Wood
Theme from Last Waltz - The Band

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