Spotlight: The Band – The Last Waltz

Dec 10, 2008 by Derrick Faw · 7 Comments ·
Filed under: Cinephile, Music 

“This film should be played loud!”

It is beautiful, it is inspirational, it is exhilarating, all these things in the face of a solemn occasion. It is The Band’s The Last Waltz filmed by Martin Scorsese. Mostly consisting of concert footage from The Band’s final concert on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976. Bill Graham hosted this event at his Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, which happened to be the first place The Band ever played under the name “The Band”. It was a kind of “by the skin of your teeth” experiment, not only in filmmaking but also musically. Scorsese is well know as fanatical movie buff, but he is a great lover of music as well. Just listen to most any soundtrack from his films. Being an admirer of The Band, the collaboration produced a special magic never yet matched. The Band by the way consist of a misplaced Southerner and 4 Canadians. They are Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, and Robbie Robertson. They began as the backup group for Ronnie Hawkins and then Bob Dylan on his legendary 1966 world tour, where he unleashed his brand of rock and roll to unexpecting folk fans, Then they where known to the world as The Hawks. After so much press of this tour would only refer to them in comments like Bob Dylan and “the band”, the name stuck and they became The Band. They would continue to collaborate with Dylan off and on throughout their existence. No other group was ever able to capture all the roots, history, and atmosphere of America and put them together so genuinely.

Levon Helm

Levon Helm

Rick Danko

Rick Danko

Richard Manuel

Richard Manuel

Garth Hudson

Garth Hudson

Ronnie Hawkins and Robbie Robertson

Ronnie Hawkins and Robbie Robertson

The audience really had no idea what they were in for that night just there may be some special guest. The event started at 5:00 pm, a crowd of 5000 people were served turkey dinners followed by ballroom dancing with music performed by the Berkeley Promenade Orchestra. Then after reading of poetry The Band hit the stage at 9:00 pm and the music went on until the the early hours of the morning. All the members of the band were at the top of their game and their guest were sensational. Throughout the concert the audience was continually treated with a barrage of musical talent playing with The Band. Including: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, Paul Butterfield, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood, Stephan Stills, Bobby Charles, Bob Margolin, and Joe “Pinetop” Perkins. Each guest had a reason for being there. Invited by The Band as a whole or from individual members, they all represent elements of American music.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters

Neil Young

Neil Young

Robertson had one choice in mind for the film, he wanted Martin Scorsese. Through a mutual friend, Jonathan Taplin, they would meet and form a lasting bond. Taplin had been the road manager for Bob Dylan and The Band and later went on to produce the film Mean Streets. Marty was no stranger to filming music either. He was the first assistant director and principle editor of the film Woodstock. Scorsese’s was already busy in the process of filming at the time. The film New York, New York was over budget and behind schedule. Scorsese was under contract making it virtually impossible to shoot another film, especially on the other side of the country. It came as you could say a labor of love, something that he simply could not refuse. In the process he did something that had never been done before. Winterland was converted into a set and the footage was filmed on 35mm. With an elaborate plan of lighting and camera positions the concert was converted into a theatrical performance. The stage was even decorated with 3 crystal chandeliers said to have been used in Gone With The Wind. The set was borrowed from the San Francisco Opera’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. In all 7 cameras were used by some of the most noted cinematographers. Scorsese went to great lengths to create a 200 page musical script. The whole concert was set to a storyboard complete with illustrations. Taking the lyrics of the songs to be played and matching them with camera angles and movements and with lighting effects. As could be expected with a live performance, the crew had to keep on their feet. Due to the length of a role of film and fatigue of the camera men, not all of the concert could be caught on film. Scorsese used a headphone system to communicate with his cameramen. Giving them valuable detail of what shots and movements he wanted at the precise time. Though due to his “heated stream of instructions” veteran cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs became annoyed and removed his headset early in the show. By a simple twist of fate, what turned out to be one of the greatest moments of the whole show was rescued by this revolt. While all the other cameras were taking time to reload, Muddy Waters was giving a phenomenal performance of Mannish Boy. Kovacs’s camera caught skillfully captured this moving event. His footage was used up until the very last seconds of the song, by that time the others had scrambled their rigs back in working order. The famed David Myers was another key cameraman in the filming lineup. Robertson had his guitar bronzed for the event. Later on it was offered to Scorsese as a gift, and now resides in the Cappa Office in Manhattan.

The Staples

The Staples

Martin Scorsese and Rick Danko

Martin Scorsese and Rick Danko

Martin Scorsese's Notes

Martin Scorsese

The film also featured amazing studio takes of The Weight performed with the Staples (Roebuck “Pops”, Mavis, Yvonne, and Cleotha Staples), Evangeline with Emmylou Harris, and also The Band performing The Last Waltz Theme. To add to the music, interview segments were made at a point after the concert at The Band’s Shangri-La studio in Malibu. It was an old bordello converted into their office, work, and play area. The interviews give the film a whole new dimension, giving a glimpse of who these people are and where they came from. Somewhat filled with melancholy, it showed the reminiscence and reflection of what they had just been through the last 16 years as a group. The Last Waltz is like a snapshot, a night frozen in time, of what became of the 60′s and what the 70′s were about. For Scorsese fits in with his other films of the time making a series of documentaries about America. This trilogy consist of Italianamerican, American Boy: A Profile of: Steven Prince, and of course The Last Waltz. Technically speaking the film is virtually flawless, a great accomplishment for filming a live event. I invite any of you to check out this film or soundtrack, and if you are familiar with it, check it out again, it never gets old. Special thanks to Samantha for teaching me a lot about this wonderful moment in the history of music.

First time on World Wide Angle, you may want to subscribe to our RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!


 

 

Comments

7 Responses to “Spotlight: The Band – The Last Waltz”
  1. Hi There…!
    It was pleasant surprise to read the posting about The Last Waltz….
    It has been my favorite filmed concert ever- cinematography and music-
    It truly shows Scorsese vision and skill as a filmmaker to make an universal four dimensional story from a uni dimensional row of people standing on a stage….

    Every brilliantly executed camera move denoted a cinematic understanding of the music and the historical importance of the moment and each of the members of the Band and outstanding guests….

  2. Glad you liked the post. The Band is my favorite Band (with Wilco) and Scorsese is my favorite filmmaker so I rank this film pretty high. But it’s very interesting to know that Scorsese actually storyboarded it like he would have a fiction based on the setlist, the lyrics and subject of each song. The lighting for StageFright is a good example of this concern. Of course The Weight being shot later on with the Staples allowed him to really film and move the camera like he wanted, it’s an incredible moment. I’ve watched this film close to 100 times and can only remember of two mistakes. One is the camera panning away from Levon and coming back to him because it failed to find something else to catch up with. The second is the camera being lost up in the stage curtains and coming down to perfectly frame Dylan. I think it was an accident but it’s one of the greatest moments in the movie. What a shot! So, I correct that, there is one mistake in the entire movie. Wow.

  3. Rob says:

    The Last Waltz………………
    It is the DVD that I wish would never end…..It is replayed in my house several times a year if not lately it has been Monthly,,,,,,,,If some body had another run of footage/audio of that day ………..It would be greatly appreciated if it were to be added on and redistributed……….

    Rob Cohee

  4. Hi Rob, I’ve never seen any unreleased footage of that night but there are at least two versions of the audio that were released. The complete 4CD set and the 2CD version. There is also a bootleg version of the 4CD set which some people prefer as some of the tracks were “tweaked” on the official release they say. Here is the one I have: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000063DS1?ie=UTF8&tag=worwidang-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B000063DS1

    I am a big fan of this movie myself and have a lot of stories to tell about how I came to watch it but to tell you how special it is to me, I’ll tell you that the DVD case holds the guitar pick that Wilco’s sound master-guy gave me. It’s one of the picks Jeff Tweedy went through that night in Paris back in 2005.

  5. danko says:

    The fact that Richard was cut from the filmed performances is terrible, and that is what ruined he film for me and so many others. but was it the greatest gig you ever saw or what!

Trackbacks

Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. [...] 1978 would mark the release of Dylan’s own attempt at filmmaking with Renaldo and Clara. This rarely seen film received a lot of press for being incoherent, and therefore was widely rejected by movie theaters. The movie is made up of a combination of concert footage and documentary clips intertwined with a fiction story of Renaldo, played by Dylan, and Clara, his wife Sara. The cast includes members of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue which toured the country between 1975 and 1976. Included in the film is footage of Alan Ginsberg reading poetry, Dylan visiting Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, and a visit to the grave of Jack Kerouac. Rather or not audiences find the theatrics of the film understandable or enjoyable, the concert footage stands out as a true testament to Dylan’s stage prowess during one of the most creative and energetic periods of his career. Dylan would also appear in film The Last Waltz by Martin Scorsese, also released in 1978, and further discussed in Volume 2 of this series. [...]

  2. Gena Montoya says:

    Spotlight: The Band – The Last Waltz | World Wide Angle http://tinyurl.com/ygt8ogu



Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!