Monday, February 28, 2011

The Last Waltz (Martin Scoresese, 1978)

Group 1 Responses (400 word minimum). Focus on themes, or specific scene shots, or some other aspect of the film or its social, cultural, musical context. Due by the end of Tuesday.

Group 2 comments (200 word minimum): Supply a thoughtful comment that expands upon one (or several) of Group 1 responses.


  1. Martin Scorsese’s documentary, The Last Waltz, films a tribute concert for The Band’s last performance as a band. The concert is held in San Francisco, CA on Thanksgiving. In correlation, the film radiates with the thankfulness from The Band to the guest musicians and the fans for the past sixteen years on tour. The performances were well filmed. Scorsese seems to jump back and forth showing live performances to intimate staged performances. This tactic seems to show the soft, clean side of the band in contradiction to the hard, sweaty side of live performances. The imagery is extremely diverse. Scorsese puts interviews of the band members in between these performances highlighting the life lived through these sixteen years. This choice in direction seems extremely well planned and metaphoric. For example, in one interview, the band talks about all the women they encountered on the road. Following the interview is a live performance of Joni Mitchell playing with the band singing about life on the highway. The song seems to describe the point of view of the women and The Band’s encounter with them.
    The film is completely different to the documentaries seen so far in the class. This film was well organized and planned. This organization reflects a sense of watching a feature film instead of a documentary. The interviews seem extremely staged and planned. Even with Scorsese putting a miss take in the first interview demonstrates the control of every aspect Scorsese sought to have. In comparison to the last documentary, Don’t Look Back, Pennebaker completely stays away from view of the camera. In The Last Waltz, Scorsese is seen multiple of times during the film interviewing the band members. Scorsese is also seen having a tour of The Band’s studio with Rick Danko, the bass player. In comparison to Gimme Shelter, David and Albert Maysles with Charlotte Zwerin are seen in the film like Scorsese, but their choice of direction and editing is a raw observer of the events at Altamont. In contrast, Scorsese maps out the entire event from beginning to end. For example, the first image seen are couples dancing the waltz fading into a larger image of the highlighted ballroom atmosphere of the venue. Also, Scorsese puts in the image of the band playing cut throat at a pool hall as the voice of Robbie Robertson, the guitarist, explains the game. This scene and many through the film seem staged, practiced and performed.

  2. “The Last Waltz” was a very cool film. The depiction of The Band’s fair-well show was captured very well in my opinion by Scorsese. Opening up with the couple dancing made it seem very dated. It was like a blast from the past, almost like the beginning of something big. The Band started out as a backing group for a lot of awesome musicians and vocalists. This was a great way to play so many different genres of music, and it came through in their music. The great thing about this group is that they didn’t just have one singer, they had multiple singers. In my opinion that’s how you reach a lot more fans. The way Scorsese put this film together their story was told through their own music. It seemed chronological the way he had past musicians come out almost in the order The Band worked with them. I mean Rich Hawkins, Neil Young, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters all put together a seasoned list of artists, and it was phenomenal. Winterland Ballroom was the perfect place to end their journey. Not only was this because they started there, but also just the beauty of that place. It seemed very fitting.
    I did like the way Scorsese worked the camera angles. Up close and personal at just the right moments. He focused on certain musicians faces when it was their time. Scorsese also seemed to focus on The Band and not too much on the crowd. Oh yes, the roar from the crowd was still there, but not too much on the crowd’s faces. It seemed like a very intimate concert. When they were interviewed, it seemed not only scripted like Julie said, but also like at anytime they were going to bust into a toothpaste commercial of something. F’n hilarious, but I liked it. This was a great way to split up the music and give some insight into the depth of The Band. The stories of their travels, the women, the musician, I thought this was very cool. It was a nice way to break things up. One other part of the film I like was that all the musicians came together on one stage. This was sort of like the past and present melting together to form one band. To me, that was Amazing. I also like the end scene. It was very out of the norm from the rest of the film.

  3. The Band was potentially one of the most influential bands of the 1960's, with hits such as Up on Cripple Creek, I Shall be Released, and, of course, The Weight. Their music has been covered and commercially featured hundreds of times, they collaborated with the best musicians of their time (Eric Clapton once said that he wished he could have joined The Band), and Rolling Stone Magazine praised all of their work and paid serious and positive attention to them, which at the time was not something that was easily accomplished. The Last Waltz was the end of The Bands touring career and was addressed by some as the end of an era. So why, after watching Martin Scorseses' The Last Waltz, did I feel like it was just another concert? Scorsese is without question one of the best filmmakers ever, but he did not manage to do justice to one of the best music groups of all time.
    The Last Waltz has been called "the rock documentary by which all others are measured," but why? The film is set up in the typical rockumentary way: interview the band, show a song from the concert, more interview, more songs, repeat until the end. Nothing too inventive about that. The Band played with dozens of artists during the concert, and Scorsese only showed the big names. Again, nothing special there. It was an interesting and effective choice, though, to avoid showing the audience, while most rocumentaries tend to rely too much on the audiences reaction.
    The interviews were what really upset me though. They were all drug fueled and at times completely nonsensical. You may argue that The Band’s whole career was mainly driven by drugs, as they attested to at several points during the film, but I feel that it is simply a matter of common courtesy, show some respect Martin. Scorsese was documenting the end of The Band and he chose to show them at their worst. In some of the interviews, the group members seemed angry, or like they just didn’t care. And maybe they were angry, maybe they didn’t care, but the film is essentially about the end of the beginning, and I felt that a heavier weight should have been attached to this finale. In his defense though, Scorsese was pretty high almost the entire time.
    Critics and audience members alike praised the film. And all in all one can’t deny that it is well done. It is shot more like a motion picture instead of a documentary, which is a nice change of pace from most other documentaries. And Scorsese at his worst is still a lot better than the majority of directors today. But, as I said before, The Last Waltz documented the end of an era, and yet there was no real sense of sadness or even a sense of finale to the film.
    An opening credit card says “this film should be played loud”, well it should also be played solemnly, and The Last Waltz did not achieve that.

  4. The Last Waltz is easily one of the best rock documentaries I’ve seen in a long time. Unlike Don’t Look Back and Give Me Shelter I got the opportunity to experience the music as a concert goer with just enough back story from The Band to make it interesting.
    I thought that Scorcese did an excellent of presenting this film as a group of musicians and friends who have come to celebrate The Band, their music and their final concert. With so many legends such as Dylan, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, DR. John and Ringo Starr just to name a few, its hard not love it. I really enjoyed the way The Last Waltz blends interviews with the performance footage to give you a sense of how these musicians got to this point in their careers. Most of all I felt like Scoresese kept most of the focus of the film on the actual performances which is really what interested me most. Between songs, The Band tells stories about life on the road and how they survived all that time, and that made for the most intriguing part of the interviews. My favorite scene aside from the music was when Richard Manuel was talking about coming up with the band name and said “it was right in the middle of the whole psychedelic chocolate subway marshmallow overcoat thing. We started off as 'The Crackers,' then we tried 'The Honkies'… we ended just calling ourselves 'The Band.'" Personally I think the Honkies would have been great. Robbie Robertson says towards the end, “The Road has taken a lot of the greats,” and “it’s a goddamn impossible existence.” I feel like as the film progress, we sort of see that life on the road and life in The Band is not all that glamorous.
    I also like the shot where Robbie Robertson really looks burnt out and exhausted. He looks as if he is just realizing that the party is over… or he is just pissed of that someone invited Neil Diamond to the party. Other than Neil Diamond I didn’t have anything that I didn’t like about the film. I loved seeing all of the musicians gathering together on stage. I thought it really did seemed like a curtain call and the end of an era.

  5. Clearly not in the cinema verite format, The Last Waltz was equally as masterful and perhaps more compelling and entertaining. Martin Scorsese directed this documentary with as much planning and care as he does with all of his works. It was this mindset that allowed the film to effortlessly explain the story of The Band as well as give a much needed insight into the history of rock and roll from a participant’s point of view. If true cinema verite is at one end of the cinematic spectrum, this film's edited patchwork of scenes is at the other end. Scorsese begins this film in the fashion of a blockbusting movie; at the end of the story. He also expertly referenced a theme within the first few minutes of the documentary. One word: "cutthroat" speaks volumes for me in relation to this film. Perhaps this pool game can also be used to describe the business and evolution of the rock and roll industry, or the harsh realities of the road that The Band was saying goodbye to at this concert. He also carried the story along seamlessly with motion shots and a whimsical overture to fill the space. This technique of storytelling is uncommon in documentaries. In order to downplay these effects, Scorsese reminded the viewers that we were still watching a documentary by keeping in the cuts, re-cuts, and non-scripted jam sessions in the final version. Throughout the film, I caught glimpses of the cinema verite style. During a great rendition of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, a camera was carefully crafted into the shot behind Levon Helm; the drummer. In fact, all of the shots in this film were orchestrated to coincide and reiterate the story and dialogue of the interviews.
    And then there was the music. The "music teacher", as Garth Hudson was known as, said it best, that Jazz was a facilitator of the movement and religion that rock and roll was becoming. Also Levon Helm explained how rock and roll evolved from an after-hours-special rebellion. Scorsese knew that the order of the set needed to reemphasize the story of The Band and therefor the story of rock and roll. After all, any history is not possible without the key players who wrote it. Ronnie Hawkins, according to Robbie Robertson's interview, was the man who helped them launch their solo career; so it was fitting that he was the first guest at their last dance together with the stage. This type of positioning was consistent throughout the film. I think that Scorsese choose The Band to apply his gift of cinematic storytelling because The Band themselves are such incredibly talented musicians. I was amazed at how ever single member could sing, play, and jam so harmoniously and with such variety. To me, this shows a true love and appreciation for music and a reverence for its evolution that only someone who has absorbed its contagious vibes first hand could possibly grasps. It was one of those, "you had to be there", things. The lineup consisted of icons that defined a chapter in the history and transformation of rock and roll. For this reason, they were all invited and eagerly preformed at the culmination and commemoration of The Band. Eric Clapton, and his signature slow hand style, jammed with Robbie in one of the most memorable scenes of the film; preforming Further Up the Road. Scorsese pulled out all the stops when he tied the story up at the end with a historic appearance from Bob Dylan. The symbolism of Dylan's first song, Forever Young, resonated throughout the walls of Winterland. The sheer talent that appeared for The Last Waltz is overpowering; a true "melting pot" of influence, culture, admirations and good old fashioned, unadulterated, soul touching music. In that respect, I feel that this documentary was very comparable to Woodstock. Couple the directors craftsmanship with the colossal music power and I would rate this documentary one of the most comprehensive and engaging documentaries of rock'n'roll.

  6. In respone to Leslie. I found this video boring and caught myself falling asleep quite a few times. though out of the movies we have watched it was the most put together and most well directed. Not knowing about the band "the band" it kinda opend my eyes and placed the music i have heard with the singers.To me the band was very diverse. you saw not only white males but also white woman and black men and women. which i though was pretty cool due to the fact that during the time there was a lot of segregation.

  7. Will B in response to Leslie H:
    “If true cinema verite is at one end of the cinematic spectrum, this film's edited patchwork of scenes is at the other end. Scorsese begins this film in the fashion of a blockbusting movie; at the end of the story.”

    Scorsese’s touch is definitely palpable in the film, everything in this documentary is polished and precisely executed(even Neil Young’s nostrial). The lighting, the camera work, and even in the planning of this concert/documentary levels above some of the previous films we had watched.

    Response to Kate:

    “The Last Waltz has been called "the rock documentary by which all others are measured," but why? The film is set up in the typical rockumentary way: interview the band, show a song from the concert, more interview, more songs, repeat until the end. Nothing too inventive about that. The Band played with dozens of artists during the concert, and Scorsese only showed the big names. Again, nothing special there. It was an interesting and effective choice, though, to avoid showing the audience, while most rocumentaries tend to rely too much on the audiences reaction.”

    I agree, the only thing that is slightly original is the lack of the audience reaction and I find that it’s a positive, this documentary is here to show the concert. The endless interviews of Robbie Robertson get old fast and it would be a little more interesting if Scorsese would show more interview with other performers.

  8. Response to Jason's post...

    One of my favorite films of all time is "Goodfellas", which happens to be one of Martin Scorcese’s most prominent films to date, so I expected a well-put-together picture. High expectations for this film were not only met, but well exceeded my idea of what this film would be like.
    "The Last Waltz", though not one of Scorcese's best in my mind, the film was undoubtedly intriguing. I would have to agree with you in saying you felt Scorcese’s primary focus throughout the film was the actual show. To see so many great musicians together on one stage absolutely blew my mind, so just the concert footage alone was enough to keep my attention. I honestly did not retain too much from the interviews as I watched them. However, the best quote in the film is one you mentioned from Richard Manuel about how their name came about around the time of the “…chocolate subway marshmallow overcoat thing.” To me, The Band was just as important to Rock N’ Roll history as Woodstock was.
    I would also agree that it life probably was not most glamorous on the road. Having said that, I don’t think I would mind if I had the opportunity to be part of the All-Madden team of Rock N’ Roll.
    John Johnston

  9. In Response:

    The Last Waltz is one of the most complete rock documentaries I have ever seen. You almost felt you were there and were in the crowd firsthand. There was also just enough background info to keep you on the edge and keep you indulged.
    Now, I will say even though it was one of the best films I have personally seen in this class, I have no choice but to agree with E.Brogli. There was lots of dull moments. Its like the film did not know whether it wanted to grab my attention span, grab it and keep it, or let it slip away. I would be so into it and then out of nowhere I would slip out of it. I loved the whole the concept of it but it wasn't consistent. Kinda weird that after saying that i still believe it was one of the best I have seen, but when I was into it there was no slipping out if it. When that happened, it was slowly but surely over time and not just drasticly out of nowhere.