Last Waltz, The (1978)

A nostalgic documentary by Scorsese that celebrates the cultural phenomenon that is rock music in the form of a concert film.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Martin Scorsese
1978 | USA | Documentary/Music | 117 mins | 1.85:1 | English
PG (passed clean)

Cast: –
Plot:  A film account and presentation of the final concert of The Band.
Awards: Official Selection (Cannes)
Source: MGM

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: DVD
First Published: 16 Dec 2008
Spoilers: N/A

The Last Waltz is an important milestone in the history of rock-and-roll movies. It is not only a farewell concert by The Band, one of America’s most popular rock groups from the golden age, but also a celebration of a cultural phenomenon that defined perhaps the most glorious and unique era in all of American music – the ’60s and ’70s.

The film features some of the greatest song writers to ever grace the stage – Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, amongst many others, including small cameos by The Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Hawkins and The Beatles’ Ringo Starr.

There are two kinds of music documentaries: a biographical account of a band or musician with excerpts from concerts and tours; or the recording of a live concert with the inter-cutting of interview footages.

The Last Waltz belongs to the latter, and it marks Martin Scorsese’s first foray into this genre. There is enough packed into the two hours to excite any rock fan. The last act has a strong sense of nostalgia as the unparalleled lineup of rock superstars come together again to sing one last time with The Band.

“It’s not like it used to be.”

Scorsese knows where to place his cameras and how to move them around the stage. Though it is fluid enough for a ’70s film, there is an unpolished and unrehearsed feel to its execution. Purists will like the rawness of it, but perfectionists might be discontented with the way Scorsese has shot and edited the film.

Ironically, the director himself is a self-confessed perfectionist. Though those familiar with his earlier works such as Mean Streets (1973) and Taxi Driver (1976) will argue that spontaneity is the most recognizable trait of ’70s Scorsese.

In a way the film focuses too much on the stage that the live audience is often ignored. Capturing the screaming audience and the way they groove along with the music is just as important. This familiarizes the viewers with the strength of the audience, creating a visual atmosphere that adds to the experience of watching a concert on screen.

The Last Waltz is not Scorsese’s best concert film; that distinction goes to Shine a Light (2008), a film that redefined the art of capturing a concert on film. However, it remains a delight to watch, especially for nostalgic reasons.

Grade: A-



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