4K UHD Review: The Last Waltz [Criterion] | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, June 18th, 2024  

The Last Waltz

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Mar 30, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, a 1978 music documentary centered around The Band, is best described by the film’s opening title card, which explains to viewers that the film “should be played loud.” Heed this advice, because Scorsese’s documentary is a wonderful-sounding, beautiful-looking portrait of a musical group reflecting on their then sixteen-year long creative journey.

The documentary’s structure is simple. The film focuses on The Band as they perform, at the time, what they believed would be their final show at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom on Thanksgiving Day, 1976. The film opens with The Band’s encore song at the show before quickly pivoting to the beginning of the performance, running in linear style through the band’s set, which includes some of their best-known songs such as “The Weight,” “Cripple Creek,” and “Stage Fright.” The show features a number of notable guests, including, but not limited to, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Neil Diamond.

The Last Waltz is primarily a concert film, but it also has brief interviews with The Band’s frontman, Robbie Robertson, as well as with the other members of the group. During these discussions Scorsese is on-screen often, interacting with the subjects with familiarity. The Band recounts its 16-year journey, highlighting memories close to the members’ hearts. The inclusion of these interviews, which are inserted between individual song performances, adds a sense of reflexivity to the documentary, signaling how monumental this event truly is – for the members of the band, for the fans, and even for Scorsese. As a result, the entire performance is framed within a broader context, allowing the viewer to understand not only what is happening on-stage, but the entire performance’s emotional undercurrent.

Arguably, the draw of The Last Waltz is The Band’s performance itself, and on that front, Scorsese does not disappoint. The performance is immensely entertaining, a feat attributable to both The Band’s powerful stage presence and the way that the director frames the performance. Each scene is heavily edited, bouncing quickly between the performers, who are captured using borderline intrusive close-up shots. Paired together, these techniques create an intense effect of disorientation, making it feel as if the viewer is on-stage with The Band themselves. These stylistic attributes also succeed in maintaining the viewer’s attention, since what is being shown on-screen changes so quickly. The entire film might have failed if Scorsese had kept the camera in a stationary position. But the film’s quick-paced editing is what gives it a beating heart, functioning as a full cinematic experience rather than just a glorified concert video.

The Criterion Collection’s new 4K restoration looks absolutely stunning, highlighting the smoky haze of the concert hall in an aesthetically pleasing way and supporting the film’s efforts of bringing the viewer into the experience. Additionally, the physical release includes a variety of supplemental materials. The most interesting include: alternate soundtracks, two different audio commentaries, a documentary covering the filmmaking process. For lovers of music, film, or both, it almost goes without saying that The Last Waltz is your next must-have.



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