The Last Waltz (1978)

the last waltz poster 1978 movie the band
9.0 Overall Score

The Weight, guests, visuals


Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Last Waltz

Studio:  United Artists

Genre(s):  Documentary/Musical

Release Date(s):  April 26, 1978

MPAA Rating:  PG

last waltz the band neil young joni mitchell bob dylan

Say goodbye to The Band with some of their friends…

The Band is in its last days.  Meeting as members of Ronnie Hawkins’ back-up group the Hawks, the Band had a career that spanned years and included performing at Woodstock.  Now, as The Band prepares to say goodbye, a final blow-out concert is being prepared.  Documented by Martin Scorsese, The Band’s “last waltz” is about to take place…and the music and experience will be legendary.

Directed by Martin Scorsese, The Last Waltz is a concert movie and documentary.  The documentary combines interviews with performances from The Band’s final Thanksgiving Day concert on November 25, 1976.  The film was released to critical praise and is often hailed as one of the best concert movies.  The film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2019.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #1118).

The Band is a classic rock institution.  With songs like “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, The Band combined music that was popular at the time with the Southern Rock in an early form.  The Last Waltz says goodbye to the group in style.

last waltz the band mavis staples

The movie might be about The Band, but Mavis Staples and her kin steal the show

The movie is formatted with interviews breaking up the performances.  The interviews primarily focus on Robbie Robertson (which did receive some criticism), and they give insight to the group’s formation, history, and why they were choosing to walk away from it all.  In a world where groups like The Rolling Stones keep performing for decades and decades, The Band’s decision to do this is kind of a surprise since it wasn’t due to internal conflict or problems…which also makes the movie more poignant.

The big draw for The Last Waltz isn’t just The Band but all of the guest stars.  You have Ronnie Hawkens, Lenore Kandel, Ronnie Wood, Ringo Starr, Stephen Stills, Emmylou Harris, Dr. John, Bobby Charles, Paul Butterfield, and Muddy Waters adding to the performances.  Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, and Van Morrison are good matches, but Neil Diamond feels a little out of place.  The performance of “The Weight” is a high point with the Staple Singers performing as back-up.  Bob Dylan has a nice set and is a perfect fit for the performance but Neil Young’s “Helpless” and “Four Strong Winds” are great (plus led to the legendary cocaine on his nose during the performance).

last waltz neil young cocaine helpless the band

I’m still not entirely convinced that Neil Young knows he’s in this movie…

The movie is also deftly directed by Martin Scorsese.  It is a great mix of live performances, studio performances, and interviews.  The sound and visuals are top notch and remastered versions of the movie are even clearer and prettier…it is worth having it played out on a nice sound system with an HD pic.  The film is not perfect but that adds to its realism.  As someone who has done production, it can be difficult to shoot concerts with the noise and the action…and I can hear Scorsese yelling at his camera people that they are still on camera when they accidentally move.

The Last Waltz is a concert film, and that isn’t for everyone.  If you don’t like The Band, there is a good chance you won’t like the movie despite Scorsese’s involvement…but with all the talent involved in the concert, you should give it a shot.  The Band walked away from it all and this is their last hurrah, and it was quite a last performance.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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