DVD Review HTF Review: The Martin Scorsese Film Collection

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason Perez, Feb 8, 2005.

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  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

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    [​IMG]

    The Martin Scorsese Film Collection




    Studio: MGM
    Year: 1972 - 1980
    Rated: Various – See Below
    Film Length: Various – See Below
    Aspect Ratio: Various – See Below
    Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
    Audio: Various – See Below




    Release Date:
    February 8th, 2005



    Despite never taking home an Oscar® statue for “Best Director”, Martin Scorsese is, without question, one of America’s most brilliant and accomplished filmmakers. The evidence is clear – Scorsese was at the helm of such acclaimed and beloved films as Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Cape Fear and Goodfellas! Indeed, Raging Bull was selected as the greatest American film of the 1980s by American Film magazine, and Goodfellas is one of the most highly regarded “gangster” films of all time!

    Before his name was tied to such distinguished films, Martin Scorsese, a native New Yorker, studied his craft at New York University, where he earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in Film during the mid-1960s. After graduating, Scorsese worked frequently, most often as an editor on music-themed films, like Woodstock (he has a real passion for music). Finally, in the year 1972, he was tabbed by producer Roger Corman to direct the road picture Boxcar Bertha. This is an inferior work to be sure, but one which provides a glimpse of the talents he would exhibit in his later films, such as the aforementioned Mean Streets, which followed the very next year.

    Thirty-one years later, Martin Scorsese continues to make artistic, powerful films, but some of his recent efforts, such as Bringing Out The Dead, Gangs of New York, and The Aviator have met with somewhat disappointing levels of commercial success. Still, he remains a respected and important filmmaker, and a prominent member of the filmmaking community, in no small part due to his dedicated efforts to promote the preservation of motion pictures. And although The Aviator has not exactly had moviegoers flocking to the theater, it has received quite a bit of critical acclaim, but only time will tell if 2005 is the year Martin Scorsese takes home the gold that has thus far eluded him!

    Through this collection, MGM offers fans an attractive packaging of four of Martin Scorsese’s early studio-produced films, one disappointing (Boxcar Bertha), one slightly uneven (New York, New York), and two brilliant - Raging Bull and The Last Waltz! Well, 5 discs is a lot of ground to cover, so without further adieu, let’s take a closer look at this set, which arrives just in time to mark the 25th Anniversary of Mr. Scorsese’s magnum opus, Raging Bull!


    RAGING BULL (1980) – 2 DISC SPECIAL EDITION
    Running Time: 129 Minutes
    Rating: R
    Aspect Ratio: 16x9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
    Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1 and Stereo; French and Spanish - Monaural

    As mentioned above, filmmaker Martin Scorsese has developed quite an impressive body of work, including Goodfellas, Mean Streets, and Cape Fear. In my opinion, however, Raging Bull, which tells the somewhat fictionalized story of legendary pugilist Jake La Motta, stands head and shoulders above anything else Scorsese has done (even Goodfellas, which I LOVE!) and is easily one of the most perfectly realized biographical films you will ever see.

    The reason for this is that Scorsese managed to avoid the problems that plague most “bio-pics”, which generally offer either stale, lifeless factual accounts of a person’s life or gloss over the more unsavory aspects of their personas. As such, most biographical pictures either fail to entertain or offer an incomplete portrait of their subject. Fortunately, Raging Bull exhibits neither of these flaws, and tells the story of middleweight champion Jake La Motta in such a compelling manner that it is impossible to turn your attention away from the screen.

    Another impressive thing about Raging Bull is how closely it parallels Mr. La Motta’s autobiography, perhaps due to Scorsese’s desire to focus more on the person than on his exploits in the ring (Scorsese does not “understand” boxing or sports), and the fact that Jake had a fair amount of input into the film (he is credited as Raging Bull’s “consultant”). The result of this is an unflinchingly realistic portrayal of an insecure, distrustful human being who drove himself to ruin through his jealous behavior and unbridled rage.

    Turning back the clock a bit, when the film opens, it is 1941, and Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) is a rising star in the fight game, rapidly becoming one of the top contenders for the Middleweight Championship. In the first few years that follow, Jake wins some very big matches, including a highly anticipated bout against another boxing legend, Sugar Ray Robinson (Johnny Barnes), the man who would become his chief rival. However, despite his legendary toughness and professional success, La Motta lacked the desire to play along with the criminals that controlled boxing, so he was denied a chance to fight for the title belt.

    If you know anything about the fight game, you know that in the squared circle, La Motta was one of the toughest S.O.B.s around, who generally not only beat his opponents, but embarrassed them. Unfortunately, the savage nature that propelled him into the upper echelon of the middleweight class also spilled over into his personal life, where he was almost as merciless to those around him – even though they were not his enemies. Ultimately, these tendencies would cause large rifts to develop between Jake and his lovely wife Vickie (a very young Cathy Moriarty) and his brother Joey (Joe Pesci), who managed his career.

    The relationship between La Motta and Vickie began when Jake had a falling out with his first wife, and was introduced to young Vickie by Joey. Jake quickly fell in love with Vickie, and married her, but the irony in this is that she became the source of both his greatest joy and his most animalistic rage. The reason for this is that Jake was unbelievably insecure, and could not get his mind around the possibility that a woman as vibrant and beautiful as “his” (women were possessions in his mind) Vickie could remain faithful. As such, he is persistently bombarded by feelings that Vickie is cheating on him – maybe even with Joey, his brother and most trusted ally. Sadly, Jake proves incapable of rationally resolving these feelings and insecurities within his own mind, and things escalate to the point that Jake savagely beats Vickie because of his unfounded suspicions, and thinking that his brother Joey has also betrayed him, he also gets to see the worst side of Jake.

    As you can plainly see, La Motta’s personal life was a mess, but his success in the ring continued, and he did finally get a shot at the middleweight crown. Unfortunately, in his first title match, Jake was required to play ball and take a dive against Billy Fox. Realizing that he would have no serious future in boxing unless he complied, he agreed to go down, but was not very convincing about it. The result of this controversy was an investigation by the FBI, among others, which tainted Jake’s career and nearly culminated in his ban from the sport. Luckily for Jake, he was allowed to keep fighting, and did win the middleweight belt (in 1949) from Marcel Cerdan. His reign at the top did not last too long though, as he relinquished the title to Sugar Ray Robinson two years later, in the legends’ final match, when the referee stopped the fight.

    At this point, Jake’s career spiraled downwards very quickly, and he hung his gloves up for good in 1954. However, since Martin Scorsese was more interested in the man than his boxing career, the film continues, and we get to see another 10 years into Mr. La Motta’s future, which really was a sad period for the man. Indeed, after leaving the sweet science behind, Jake was still filled with rage and insecurity, only now he had no outlet for these harmful emotions. Losing this release, Jake became his own worst enemy, with his poisonous thoughts and despicable actions rendering him sad, broken shell of his former self. More specifically, only ten years removed from his days as a champion boxer, Jake is a nearly penniless, severely out-of-shape ex-con who has ruined his relationship with both Vickie and kids, and is forced to try and make ends meet with a two-bit nightclub routine.

    As depicted in this film, Jake La Motta’s life is an example of how jealousy, insecurity, and old-world machismo can cause the utter ruination of a man. In La Motta’s case, he simply could not handle the fact that his beloved had so much as a small portion of her life that did not revolve around him. His constant allegations and snooping into her activities eventually wore Vickie down, and ironically brought about the very thing that he did not want deep down – his wife, who he wanted for his own, driven away from him. The same holds true for Jake’s baseless distrust of Joey La Motta, who had done nothing but support his lout of a brother throughout his life.

    Yet another area in which Scorsese deserves some credit is for the cold, unflinching way he recreates the violence in La Motta’s life for us, both in and out of the boxing ring. As I mentioned, his chief goal is to show how Jake La Motta’s negative characteristics caused his downfall, but he also does not glamorize the sport of boxing, as has been done in other films like Rocky where the hero simply fights his way to the top and basks in the glory that boxing has to offer. Scorsese’s film is different in that it shows us not only how brutal and barbaric boxing can be, but also the sport’s dark and unseen side, where organized crime bosses force fighters to fix fights if they ever want to get a shot at the title. In all of these areas, Scorsese excels, creating both a wonderfully realized character study of a man who brought about the destruction of his own personal life and a realistic look at how the seedier aspects of boxing impacted La Motta’s life.

    Now as good a filmmaker as Martin Scorsese is, he could not create a masterpiece like this alone. Indeed, if it were not for the persistence of Robert De Niro, this movie may have never even been made. And with regard to De Niro’s turn as Jake La Motta, what does one say? How can I add to the volumes of praise heaped upon about Robert De Niro’s magnificent, utterly intense performance, and say anything that has not been said 1,000 times over in the quarter century since this film premiered? This man is easily one of the greatest actors of all time, and in an absolutely storied career, I would still rate De Niro’s performance as Jake La Motta as his most remarkable. The sheer level of intensity and dedication he brought to this role is absolutely amazing, and he also took great pains to ensure that while we can never feel too much sympathy for Jake La Motta, we can at least understand the man, and what drove him to do the things he did.

    Moreover, De Niro was so into this role that he went to great lengths to achieve the physical condition required for various stages of the film. For example, early in the film, De Niro looks to be in prime physical condition, as a championship-caliber boxer should, which is a result of training with Jake La Motta for about a year before any film was shot. Conversely, as the obese, broken-down La Motta at the end of the film, Robert De Niro ate like a glutton to gain over 50 pounds, so he would resemble the older Jake La Motta. Who else but De Niro would do this, merely because he thought a fat suit would not look right? In my view, the Best Actor Oscar® Robert De Niro received for this work was not only hard earned, but also extremely well deserved. This nothing short of a tour de force performance, perhaps the best by any actor…ever!

    Supporting players Cathy Moriarty and Joe Pesci are also superb in Raging Bull, and both were rewarded with Oscar® nominations for their performances, which exhibit a lot of the same rawness and unbridled energy as De Niro’s portrayal of Jake La Motta. For instance, Joe Pesci plays Joey as a slightly more shrewd, outgoing, and caring version of his brother (the male-dominant attitude and violent tendencies are still present though) who recognizes his brother’s impending self-destruction and tries to prevent it, to no avail. Cathy Moriarty is equally great, turning in a performance well beyond her years (she was about 17 at the time) as La Motta’s spouse, a woman paralyzed by the fear of a brutal man she had once loved and thought she knew very well, and who had fathered her children.

    To sum things up, the performances in this film are almost great beyond description, and Scorsese’s direction is as sharp as razor wire, but the film’s style is no less magnificent! Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Chapman chose to shoot the vast majority of Raging Bull on black-and-white stock (the re-created home movies are in color), and it proved to be an excellent decision, making Raging Bull stand out at a time when a glut of boxing-themed films were coming out and black-and-white films had become the exception to the rule.

    The fight sequences benefited the most from the use of black-and-white stock, as they are even more visceral, exciting, and stylish than they would have been in color, especially with Scorsese’s use of slow-motion. During these carefully staged fight sequences, a variety of visual tricks and different camera angles also help give viewers a sense of La Motta’s emotional state from fight to fight. Not only is the work of Michael Chapman first rate here, but so is that of editor Thelma Schoonmaker, whose brilliant editing brought Scorsese’s vision of re-creating La Motta’s brutal boxing matches realistically, and having each shot during the fight scenes lead into each other, to the screen.

    In the final analysis, Martin Scorsese’s stylish, unrelenting, and deeply thought-provoking look at how a man’s jealousy, obsessions, and inability to control his rage tarnished his life is an absolutely amazing motion picture. Although it is one of my personal favorites, I had not watched it in a while, which was fortunate because I was able to come in with a fresh perspective on the film and reacquaint myself with just how powerful the story and these performances are. This is not only one of the best motion pictures of the 1980s, but it belongs on the short list of the best motion pictures of all time! Impeccable filmmaking from start to finish… [​IMG] [​IMG]


    NEW YORK, NEW YORK: SPECIAL EDITION
    Running Time: 163 Minutes
    Rating: PG
    Aspect Ratio: Letterboxed Widescreen (1.66:1)
    Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1; English and Spanish – Monaural

    Although it does have some fairly entertaining musical sequences, New York, New York is definitely not Martin Scorsese’s most well-regarded or intelligent film. The biggest issue is that while Scorcese’s careful attempt to recreate the musical love story as told in the grand old Hollywood tradition is successful in some respects, the plot is weak, the ending was far too ambiguous for my liking, and the film has surprisingly little heart. To be sure, some of this stems from the director’s desire to deal with the harsh realities of two creative people trying to make a relationship work – in most cases they cannot, for a variety of reasons, including infidelity and professional jealousy – but I could not bring myself to really care about, or root for, either of the main characters. What follows are my reasons why.

    Essentially, the roller coaster ride begins when Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro), a talented sax player, meets Francine Evans (Liza Minelli – a once great actress, now mentioned only in tabloids), who happens to be an extremely gifted singer. Of course, despite being completely different personalities (he is aggressive and she is very passive), they end up as lovers, and later husband and wife. After they get hitched, they make some beautiful music together, literally - Jimmy fronts a big band ensemble that showcases Francine on vocals - and their inspired collaborations prove popular, despite the fact that the commercial appeal of big band music is waning.

    Unfortunately, while Jimmy and Francine do manage to work well together as musicians, their relationship as husband and wife is rather unstable, largely because Jimmy is a self-centered jerkoff. Over time, Jimmy’s behavior even proves to be too much for the incredibly patient and sweet Francine, with the straw that breaks the camel’s back being his unhappiness that they are expecting a child. At this point, Francine has had enough of Jimmy’g griping, so she leaves him and heads back home to the Big Apple. Now, I can’t really say he recognized all of the mistakes he had made, but Jimmy does quit his band and heads back to New York to try and work things out with his wife.

    Despite his efforts towards reconciliation, the relationship between Jimmy and Francine remains cool, and things get even more complicated by the fact that Francine becomes a bona fide star, releasing the hit “There Goes the Ball Game”, which symbolizes her failed marriage to Mr. Doyle. Will they be able to put aside the past and rekindle their romance, or should they move on? If they did get back together, could Jimmy deal with the fact that Francine was in the limelight? To be honest, these characters were developed on too superficial a level for me to care.

    Basically, Jimmy is a jerk Francine is a jellyfish that just sat back and put up with his uncouth behavior for far too long, so I respected her even less. The film is also vague on why these two polar opposites ended up getting hitched (because they definitely should not have). I know opposites attract in most circumstances, but for me, there was no reason in the world to want these two characters to get together, which made me lose interest in the story. The movie just doesn’t go anywhere, as far as the story is concerned. Of course, since opinions on films can be very different even among like-minded people, your mileage may vary considerably.

    That being said, while I would not dare characterize this story as gripping material, Martin Scorsese once again proves to be a genius at orchestrating camera moves to music, and in the case of New York, New York, selecting music that symbolizes the state of the relationship between Jimmy and Francine. It is unquestionable that he was aided in this by Ralph Burns, the Oscar Winning® conductor (Cabaret) who brought Scorsese’s musical ideas to life with a superb variety of old standards, which were given the big band treatment hete. To put it simply, the musical scenes really work, especially if you like the big band sound!

    Another thing New York, New York has going for it is its colorful, almost gaudy look, which not only makes it easy on the eyes, but enhances the musical numbers. This is good news, since a good portion of this movie consists of musical numbers. And with that in mind, most of the songs really are performed quite well, especially those featuring Liza Minnelli. It is sad that she is probably only known to most people my age through the tabloids, because she was truly talented, which is evident from the way she gives the movie a lift when she sings. Better still, the other aspects of her performance are good as well, as she brings the character of Francine to life, making her vulnerable and charming, and yet also docile and reserved enough to be hamstrung by Jimmy’s self-important persona and behavior for far too long.

    Although I would have expected nothing less, Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Jimmy Doyle is also great! To De Niro’s credit, I really did not like Jimmy Doyle. It was also amazing how believable he was as a sax player, once again making it evident that the amount of preparation he does is nearly unparalleled.

    Helmsman Martin Scorsese was also in fine form – seamlessly blending music and visuals the way he always does. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, the characters in this film are developed in a fairly superficial manner, and the ambiguous ending leaves those waiting for a payoff wanting. I am aware that Martin Scorsese wanted to explore the turmoil that exists in relationships between two creative people, and I respect that, but the dramatic portions of the film simply are not all that interesting.


    THE LAST WALTZ (1978) – SPECIAL EDITION
    Running Time: 117 Minutes
    Rating: PG
    Aspect Ratio: 16x9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
    Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1 and Original Re-Mastered Stereo Surround

    Before becoming a great rock group in their own right, The Band (Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson) came up as many groups did, performing in small local clubs. Eventually, this outfit, which went through several name changes, ended up opening for Bob Dylan during the late 1960s. Subsequently, as “The Band” they recorded memorable albums like “Music from Big Pink” – a great DVD-Audio [​IMG] , and “The Band”, smong others. On these discs, Robbie Robertson, the group’s driving force, drew upon a really wide range of influences to compose some truly unique music that showcased the musical abilities of his fellow Band members.

    Unfortunately, even the best rock groups eventually hang it up, and The Band did as well, closing the curtain on their career right at its pinnacle, with a Thanksgiving Day (1976) performance at the Winterland Theater in San Francisco. This farewell “with friends” concert was captured on film by none other than Martin Scorsese, who meticulously planned the performance, and orchestrated the appearance of prominent musical figures onstage with The Band, to create a truly magical experience. The performances captured during the concert were then commingled with interviews and performances recorded in the studio by Scorsese, with the final product ending up as one of the very best rock and roll movies ever made!

    One of the very best things about the film is how it brings home just how diverse these musicians were! To put a finer point on it, The Band’s members were able to almost effortlessly handle the transition between traditional blues on the Muddy Waters led “Mannish Boy” and folk while backing up Neil Young. They also showed why they had more than a few fans of their own, by delivering high-energy renditions of their own hits, like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”! Really and truly, this film is simply a wealth of musical high points – there are too many to mention, but check out the performances by Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Joni Mitchell for some of the others. Oddly enough, what is arguably the film’s highlight is a song from the studio - The Band’s rendition of their hit “The Weight”, with accompaniment from The Staples, a gospel group. If you like The Band, you will re-cue this part and watch it over and over again, trust me!

    Interestingly, despite its age, The Last Waltz does not seem as dated as other “rockumentaries” of this vintage, and is easily entertaining enough to hold up to multiple viewings. I think this is because Scorsese, who is very passionate about music, used the experience he gained working on
     
  2. PeterMano

    PeterMano Stunt Coordinator

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    I wasn't interested in this set, but was going to buy Raging Bull SE. That was $22 canadian. This set of four was $32 canadian. My decision to buy the set became easy as I don't have any of the other 3 films. And even mediocre martin scorsese is better than a lot of other filmmaker's top work.
     
  3. Michael Boyd

    Michael Boyd Second Unit

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    I wanted this set and had expected to pick it up at Deep Discount's next 20% off sale. However, browsing Best Buy today (can't stay away on Tuesday if I tried) I saw it for 37.99 and went ahead and grabbed it. Nice heavy duty box. Wish some other boxsets were so well made.

    I haven't seen Raging Bull in years and I'm looking forward to squeezing it in between my new found love of daily Netflix titles.
     
  4. PeterMano

    PeterMano Stunt Coordinator

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    I'm scratching my head on this. I bought from best buy canada and got the set for $31.99 canadian. Shouldn't this be cheaper in the states?

    I'm wondering if they mispriced it up here.
     
  5. MattHR

    MattHR Screenwriter

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    Is the commentary on RAGING BULL from the original Criterion CAV laserdisc, or is it a new recording?
     
  6. Simon Howson

    Simon Howson Screenwriter

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    I think it is the Criterion Commentary. By the way Schoonmaker and Scorsese are talking it sounds like it is about 1990.
     
  7. Marko Berg

    Marko Berg Supporting Actor

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    Is the packaging in this set bilingual in Canada? This isn't always the case with MGM, but I just want to make sure. Thanks.
     
  8. jon_farthing

    jon_farthing Agent

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    Anyone know if New York, New York is going to be available separately? I pre-ordered Raging Bull not realising New York New York was also a special edition.

    oh well...
     
  9. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    Me too Peter. I went into FS yesterday looking to buy the RB SE and BB and it was actually cheaper to buy the box. $8 bucks CAN each - not bad.
     
  10. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    Yes it is available on its own, but the R2 release of New York, New York is to be a two-disc set with a special documentary, see here. I managed to pick the R1 box up for $23 CAD during the dvdsoon sale (not bi-lingual BTW, not that it would have bothered me) - how do they do it?
     
  11. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    That's an amazing price John. FS wanted that much for the RB SE alone.
     
  12. Matt-R

    Matt-R Extra

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    I picked up the boxset at Zellers (shocked they even had it since they have the worst dvd selection for a retail chain) for $28.97. Raging Bull itself was $24.97.[​IMG]
     
  13. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    I'm not terribly interested in any of these beyond Raging Bull, but the cheap price of the box is certainly tempting.
     
  14. Craig Perrin

    Craig Perrin Extra

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    On the bilingualism in Canada:
    I saw the Raging Bull SE on the shelf in HMV WITH a bilingual cover (French was there, but not very large), but the Box Set (which I purchased), has NO bilingual covers, either outside, or on the inside (ie, my Raging Bull sleeve in English only).
    Like others, I had only intended to buy the Raging Bull SE, but the box set was about $8 more ($32.99) for three more movies. Can't go wrong there. The packaging is quite nice too, imo.
     
  15. clayton b

    clayton b Stunt Coordinator

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    Wow, 4 good movies for around $30, that is a steal.
     
  16. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    Excellent review Jason.

    I'm actually just as excited for this Scorsese Collection as the Warner one. RAGING BULL is his masterpiece and #3 on my all time list. I've always enjoyed THE LAST WALTZ being a huge Dylan fan. There were a couple better tracks that were cut but oh well. I've only seen NYNY and BOXCAR once and that was around 1992. I don't remember caring for BOXCAR but I do remember being highly impressed with NYNY, which at the time got me into watching musicals. I'm not sure if my opinion will change but at the time I thought it was highly underrated.

    Sadly I'm working 12 hour days now so watching these is going to be a problem. [​IMG]
     
  17. MarcoBiscotti

    MarcoBiscotti Producer

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    Can anyone please confirm whether or not they recieved the original 8-page booklet that was issued with THE LAST WALTZ as part of this boxset?


    Amazon.com indicates that it should be included, but other members have noted that they hadn't received it..
     
  18. TonyDale

    TonyDale Second Unit

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    The booklet is not in my LAST WALTZ dvd. . .
     
  19. Marko Berg

    Marko Berg Supporting Actor

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    Thanks to Jason for the detailed review and to everyone who replied on the bilingual covers issue. I've ordered this boxed set. This is an expensive hobby. [​IMG]
     
  20. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
    Reviewer

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    ...not exactly. They reunited and performed concerts without Robertson in the 80s. They kept performing on and off even after Richard Manuel's death in 1986 up until Rick Danko's death in late 1999.

    Regards,
     

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