I was reminded of this wonderful film by a lovely post by Caroline, No featuring Dr John’s “Such A Night” from the film. I first saw The Last Waltz at the Aukland Film Festival in May 2003 and it was one of those amazing films where people whooped and clapped and cheered in the cinema and got totally swept along with it all. And since I’ve watched it, oh 300, 400 times or thereabouts and if you know me, I’ve probably forced you to watch it too.
Note I have just discovered how to post Youtube videos onto my blog and am quite excited about it – I’ve picked The Band’s It Makes No Difference and Neil Young’s Helpless, but there are about a million other songs from the film I could have chosen – I love the bluesy The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down too and the duet with Emmylou Harris (a drummer who also sings = pretty unusual).
It was made in 1978 – the first ever “rockumentary” and Scorcese’s first ever film. It features the last gig of The Band who were Bob Dylan’s backing band and who had been on the road for about 15 years when it was filmed. They picked a small intimate venue in San Francisco for their last gig – and played their favourite songs of their own (The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, It Makes No Difference, Up On Cripple Creek – all wonderful songs and perfect lyrics) but then they were joined onstage by the people who had shared their life on tour and their love of music all the way along – Bob Dylan (who seems to have his eye on the ladies in the front row), Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, a fresh faced Van Morrisson in a terrible velvet catsuit, Neil Diamond, a slurring Neil Young who says it is the greatest pleasure of his life to share a stage with them that night (and who flirts outrageously with Joni at one point), Howling Wolf and Dr John. The music is quite amazing, fantastic, and to see these musicians play their heart out together is really inspiring. I could listen to the soundtrack again and again and again.
More than that, Scorcese interviews The Band backstage and its the perfect picture of the 70s travelling band, who you get the impression will be entirely lost without this touring life. The enigmatic lead guitarist Robbie Robertson (who gives Clapton a run for his money when they jam together) is a beguiling raconteur and tells stories of being holed out in Woodstock making doors, jamming with old blues masters and a crazy, hedonistic life on the road. The organist talks about how he didn’t want to tell his folks he was in a band, so pretended he was giving them piano lessons (and made them pay). And the story about how they wanted to call themselves Psychadelic Mushrooms or some such name, but everyone just called them “the band” so it stuck. The scene where Rick Danko the beautiful bass player (and singer of It Makes No Difference – the most beautiful love song that I played on repeat on my iPod every morning for a whole summer) is contemplating, alone, a life without the band is incredibly touching. So its funny and emotional too.
Please please please go see this film – on Lovefilm, from Amazon, whatever, and enjoy quite possibly the best rock music in a film, ever. And thank you Caroline for reminding me about it!