The Last Waltz Directed By Martin Scorsese MGM (DVD)
As would be expected from both Robbie Robertson and director Martin Scorsese, the new DVD edition of The Last Waltz has received superb audio and visual transfers. The cover boasts that this is “the finest of all rock movies.” In this case, the word “finest” could refer to characteristics beyond “greatest” or “best”; the connotation that comes to mind is “exhibiting careful and delicate artistry.”
Lavishly appointed with chandeliers and other non-rock set decorations, it is indeed luxurious and grand. And as carefully controlled as it all was, there are gloriously enduring moments that are the essence of spontaneity. Among them are Van Morrison’s exuberant though ridiculously non-athletic leg-kick and any shots of Garth Hudson, lost in his own mad-scientist universe of keyboards.
Time has not been kind to Robertson’s conceit that The Band was packing it in because of “the road.” Prattling on about their 16 years just doesn’t cut it with the range of bands who have been out there now for twenty and thirty years, truly on the road — not the Rolling Stones and the Who, but bands such as NRBQ and Brave Combo. (And of course, the rest of The Band did regroup and play on for many years past Robertson’s departure.)
The DVD extras are a mixed lot. Many of the photos are about as exciting to click through as someone else’s vacation snapshots. The little feature about the making of the film has running buddies Scorsese and Robertson tediously revisiting the art and magic of it all.
The surprising high point is the all-star jam session — the same stuff that mars the new CD box set, but which has greater appeal as a visual element. There’s a wonderful shot as the camera looks out at the assembled players, Neil Young hunkering down in the middle of it all, from the rear of the stage. Seeing the skeletal backsides of the formal decorations — now that gets to the heart and spirit of rock ‘n’ roll.