One thing is going to become clear the more you get to know me here on Double Groove–I tend to go through these moods or phases in which I listen to a musician or an album non-stop. 2012 was a big year for me and Billy Joel (his music was on in our apartment constantly) followed by a brief but tumultuous affair with Prince’s Purple Rain. It’s seems now I’m at it again and this time the object of my affection is The Band. This obsession includes listening to their albums on repeat as well as many viewings of Martin Scorsese’s 1978 film The Last Waltz.
I’ve watched numerous concert films in my time but Scorsese’s attention to lighting in The Last Waltz makes it different. It’s warm and full of life. Despite the sadness of the end of The Band’s career, the film celebrates each member and their impact on musicians and music alike.
The Band, as we know it, consisted of Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson. They joined Ronnie Hawkins’ backing group, The Hawks, one by one between 1958 and 1963. After parting with Hawkins, they released a few tracks of their own as Levon & The Hawks and the Canadian Squires before joining Bob Dylan as his backing band in 1965. During their time with Dylan, which included a move to Saugerties, NY, they recorded The Basement Tapes (in 1967) and their debut album, my favorite of theirs, Music From Big Pink (in 1968). They went on to release ten studio albums and toured constantly until 1976. Although they went on to tour in the 80’s and 90’s, The Last Waltz was the last performance The Band did with all original and founding members.
I’ve read that the majority of The Band was hesitant to have this concert filmed but I’m glad it was. I know Levon Helm said he hated it (I believe his exact word was ‘despised’) because of the way Robbie Robertson is portrayed (their rocky relationship is a topic of interest in itself) but I believe that despite not appearing as much as Robertson in the interview portions, Helm’s presence was powerful and memorable. He shines in the songs that he sings and the answers he does give are informative and touching.
Besides playing their own songs, they also invited a few of their musician friends, like Neil Young, Van Morrison (who rocks a purple bedazzled jumpsuit), Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan. It’s an iconic film and a must watch for everyone.