Twitter Plot Summary: The final performance of The Band, recorded in 1976, released in 1978. They inevitably toured again.
Five Point Summary:
1. Good tunes to start.
2. Neil Young! Whoop!
3. Muddy Waters. Awesome.
4. Joni Mitchell!
5. What’s Ringo Starr doing? Not much, apparently.
The Last Waltz opens with the words, in big bold letters, that this film should be played loud. In hindsight it’s very good advice as the music in this documentary, which captures the final performance of The Band at Thanksgiving 1976, is exceptional. The tunes fit in with what today we would describe as that “classic rock” sound – inspired by southern blues, old country and soul. Of course, back then it was just good old fashioned rock and roll, pure musicianship.
The documentary is primarily a flurry of classic rock songs from that final performance interspersed with interviews with The Band. Their history is explored in choice soundbites and features some typical rock and roll stories, mixed with a discussion about their origins and their reasons for calling it a day some 20 years after starting out. Much of the focus however is given to the live music on what was at that point their final show – as we all know, musicians only ever seem to call it a day due to ill health or one or more members of the lineup shuffling on from this mortal coil, so it was inevitable that The Band would complete more tours in future years. Conveniently for a documentary about a final gig, the music happens to be very good indeed, and the live mix captures the feeling of what it would no doubt have been like in that ballroom theatre on that night in ’76.
As if to cement just how well-respected and appreciated The Band were, the live show features a number of guest performers such as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Neil Diamond, Ronnie Wood, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters and er, Ringo Starr. The Band were responsible for inspiring some of these acts, and drew inspiration from others. If nothing else it demonstrates their near-universal appeal at that time – no two acts who join them on stage are alike, and all have their own unique styles to contribute to the show.
Scorsese directs in an entirely relaxed manner, there’s no dramatic camera movements, no flashy flourishes. Instead he lets the music and The Band take centre stage (no pun intended), both in their live performances and their interviews. To do anything in addition to what The Band provides naturally would be to tarnish the final product. As an interviewer he is equally as relaxed, occasionally pushing for a specifically worded answer but never doing so with the intention of a man wanting to aggravate the interviewee. The members of The Band join in with this laid back attitude, and appear more than happy to discuss their careers and opinions on camera without holding back.
Whilst there is little in terms of background history of the collective known as The Band, and bearing in mind that this has been made as a celebration of their careers and music, there is little more to The Last Waltz than some candid interview moments combined with some superb musicianship. To be fair though, it doesn’t need to be anything more than this – the music speaks for itself.