Epic Concert

Rating: NNNN this reissue of the last waltz is essentially a commercial for the DVD and four-CD issues coming soon.

Rating: NNNN

this reissue of the last waltz is essentially a commercial for the DVD and four-CD issues coming soon to a big record store near you.That said, it’s interesting 20-odd years down the road to look at what’s often cited as the greatest rock-concert film ever. Of its extensive musical highlights, intriguingly, few of them actually belong to the Band. Compared to Joni Mitchell’s scatty run through Coyote, Paul Butterfield’s charge through Mystery Train and Muddy Waters’s monumental Mannish Boy, the Band is subdued — good and occasionally inspired, but in reality the greatest backup band of all time.

This epic of boomer nostalgia features music so well-known that comment is superfluous. I doubt it will convert any Blink 182 fans into admirers of the ostentatiously homespun rock virtues Robbie Robertson espouses. Though it might.

It’s also a glimpse of rock’s infamous drug culture. Band pianist Richard Manuel looks like a ghost, and Scorsese, possessed of a manic energy at the best of times, looks as if he weighs about 80 pounds. He was doing a lot of coke while making The Last Waltz and also finishing post-production on New York, New York. (Read all about it in Peter Biskind’s Easy Rider, Raging Bulls.)

Robbie Robertson is at his most pretentious, nattering on like the Grand Old Man of the rock and roll road at the advanced age of 32.

And The Last Waltz is not the best rock-concert documentary. Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense is more thoroughly conceived as a recreation of the concert experience, more in touch with the fun spirit of the music and never lets us hear David Byrne talk. Scorsese seems more comfortable in the studio-shot numbers where he can control the lighting and manoeuvre his cameras: Evangeline, with Emmylou Harris, or The Weight, where the Band are joined by the Staples Singers.

The Last Waltz is definitely worth seeing in a theatre, though. No matter how good your TV/DVD set-up is, it won’t give you details like the degree of wear on the fretboard of Eric Clapton’s fender or the size of Neil Young’s pupils. johnh@nowtoronto.com

THE LAST WALTZ directed by Martin Scorsese, with the Band, Muddy Waters, Paul Butterfield, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Ronnie Hawkins. 90 minutes. An MGM/UA release. Opens Friday (April 19). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 74. Rating: NNNN

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