Levon Helms’ passing this week prompted a viewing of Martin Scorsese’s 1978 rock concert documentary, The Last Waltz in my apartment this weekend.
For those of us with a limited familiarity of rock music of the 1960s, The Last Waltz is a stunning introduction to some of the greats. Scorsese sits across from members of The Band in relaxed, candid interviews in their California studio, while also capturing Bob Dylan, Van Morrisson, and Joni Mitchell, among others, on stage alongside The Band in a phenomenal farewell concert.
Though he is widely known as a feature director of mob violence dramas and grandiose biopics, Scorsese also has an impressive stock of music documentaries under his belt, and, even more impressive, The Last Waltz was his first dive into the genre. He has since told Bob Dylan’s, the Rolling Stones, and recently George Harrison’s stories on screen, in No Direction Home, Shine a Light, and Living in the Material World, respectively. He has also demonstrated a keen interest in rock and roll music through his soundtrack inclusions for his dramatic feature films.
The Last Waltz oscillates between the euphoric energy of the farewell concert and the sobering interviews as The Band members recall the good times and the bad in their life on the road. Though their love for the music they made together is entirely genuine, their fatigue is transparent, and it seems like the time is right to break up The Band. Scenes from the enrapturing final concert leave no room for doubt that The Band chose to quit while they were ahead. As they prepared to put down their instruments, Scorsese masterfully preserved their final concert on screen for us to enjoy many decades later, highlighting some of the greatest musicians of that generation and The Band that shared the stage with them.