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Music on Film Series Reviews: The Last Waltz

23 07 2011

Copyright 1978 MGM and United Artists

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

For those of you that know me personally, you are probably already aware of my two greatest passions.  For those of you who don’t, one is obviously film and filmmaking, the other is music.  I’ve been a guitar player for about 12 years now, have had some success in the local scene over the years with several bands, most notably with Jaxon Jill from 2007-2009.  So, to bridge the gap a bit here on the blog I’m starting a new series that will have updates ever so often.  The series will be called the Music on Film Series and include popular, and not so popular, films that have either been of live concerts, taped recordings or other instances in which music is the predominant subject of the visual image.

In starting this little ongoing series, I feel it is only fitting to begin with my favorite concert film of all time, The Band’s The Last Waltz.  I remember the first time I ever heard The Band, it was truly an hear opening experience, if you will.  I was at the local Borders in Winston-Salem, which unfortunately is currently going out of business with the rest of the chain as we speak, and I was listening to various albums they had available with headphones.  I was maybe 14 or 15 years old at this time, just beginning an interest in classic rock and roll that would continue to this day.  When I came to the CD of The Band’s Greatest Hits, which at the time had just been released on compact disc, I put on the headphones and hit play for a sample of the first track, their classic hit “The Weight”.  As I continued sampling the album through “Tear of Rage”, “I Shall Be Released”, “Up on Cripple Creek” and “King Harvest”, I became enamored with their style and musical influences.  Their sound is such a perfect blend of Blues, R&B, Rock and Roll, Country and Folk, and the voices of Levon Helm, Richard Manuel and Rick Danko blend so beautifully and harmoniously, that the music itself literally becomes timeless.

Needless to say, I bought the album on the spot and it continued to be a staple of my car CD system for years to come.  As I became more and more interested in their music, I caught wind of their final concert, The Last Waltz, which was filmed at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco in 1976.  The concert film was directed by none other than iconic Italian-American filmmaker Martin Scorsese.  Scorsese and The Band collaborating on a celebration of the music at a live concert was too good to pass up.  At the time nearing my birthday, it was a first choice for present from my parents; once received, I played it from beginning to end on the big screen TV with the sound system all the way up.

The film features not only a large number of iconic Band tunes, but also has a multitude of musical guests joining the band on stage for one to two songs.  Guests include Van Morrison, Neil Young, Dr. John, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan (who the members of The Band were the backing band for before going out on their own), Eric Clapton and Muddy Waters, among others.  There is nothing quite like hearing many of these songs live when the group was at the height of their fame; the energy of the performances are breathtaking.  Interspersed between the music are interviews with members of The Band about their life and times with The Band and being musicians in general.

I highly recommend this album to anyone who loves music of 60s and 70s.  This is truly a celebration of The Band’s music and the people behind the music, Levon Helm (Drums and Vocals), Robbie Robertson (Guitar), Rick Danko (Bass and Vocals), Richard Manuel (Piano and Vocals) and Garth Hudson (Keys, Organ, Sax, Crazy Musical Genius Extraordinaire).  Just to give you a sample of the film, here’s oneof my favorite tracks from the DVD:

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