Movies Are My Wife

Married to the Movies — Mdino's Blog

Martin Scorsese’s THE LAST WALTZ (1978)

Given the exciting cinematic pyrotechnics evident in the early films of Martin Scorsese, the lackluster approach taken for most of THE LAST WALTZ (1978) seems especially disappointing.  This film chronicling the final concert of THE BAND in San Francisco on Thanksgiving day 1976, is often shot with only a moderate amount of imagination.  Of course, a documentary of this sort depends mostly on the viewer’s attitude toward the subject matter.  If you love the music of THE BAND (Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel,and Robbie Robertson) you will probably find the film enthralling.  If you are like me and are indifferent to this sort of music, you probably won’t be  impressed. 

The uninspired filming of many of the music numbers  can be partly explained by the limitations imposed on Scorsese and his cameramen (an impressive crew led by Michael Chapman), by filming in an environment with a live audience.  A couple of studio shot numbers featuring The Staples and Emmylou Harris are filmed in Scorsese’s best manner, with much swooning, elaborate camera movement.  One of these, THE WEIGHT, is as exciting as anything Scorsese has ever committed to film.  Also beautifully done is the finale leading into the closing credits.  The camera, on a crane, pans along the musicians and their instruments pulling back luxuriously to a breathtaking high angle, long shot as THE BAND performs the film’s theme. 

A key element in films of this kind is the interviews.  In THE LAST WALTZ, they are a singularly uninteresting collection of recollections and musings.  Amazing, but it seems this particular array of entertainers has nothing much of note to say.  This is perhaps because the interview segments are often nothing more than brief snippets.  This may be the byproduct of the filmmakers’ desire to keep the film moving at a steady clip.  Why bog down a music documentary in chatter?

Most critics consider the film to be a masterpiece and the NEW YORKER  proclaimed it “The most beautiful Rock film ever made”.  Again, loving this music helps one to love the film, but why would Scorsese lend time and talent to including the egregious Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his sophomoric spoken poem, LOUD PRAYER?

February 27, 2010 Posted by | documentary, film directors, Martin Scorsese, Rock music, THE BAND | , , , , , | Leave a comment