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HTF REVIEW: "The Last Waltz" (with screenshots)

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#1 of 46 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted April 17 2002 - 04:31 AM

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The Last Waltz

Year: 1978
Rated: PG
Film Length: 117 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1


"The Band" had been on the road for 16 years
where they played everything from small clubs
to large venues. The group had experienced life
on the road from almost every angle possible.
As group member Robbie Robertson describes it,
"it's an impossible way of life".

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As the group was planning a final concert to
mark the end of their long musical journey,
everyone decided that this event should turn
into a celebration, and that they should invite
a couple of the mentors who had been so instrumental
in their musical journey.

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After the list of guest performances were in
place, the group decided that such a huge event
could not go undocumented. Robbie Robertson had
approached Director Martin Scorcese about filming
the concert. Scorcese took an immediate interest
and started to put together a detailed, 300-page
"script" for a concert documentary that was shot
on 35mm film.

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On Thanksgiving Day, 1976, The Band (Robbie
Robertson, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko,
Richard Manuel) took to the stage at the Winterland
Theatre in San Francisco. Joining the band that
evening were Bob Dylan, Dr. John, Ronnie
Hawkins, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Neil Young,
Neil Diamond, Muddy Waters, Bobby Charles
Eric Clapton. Both Ringo Starr and
Ron Wood joined in during the jam session finale.

While it certainly became a challenge for
"The Band" to play against the many styles of
music that took the stage, the group pulled it
off without a hitch.

Between each number, members of "The Band"
recall some of their favorite road stories
that included stealing food from a supermarket,
or getting drunk at a party and listening to
Sonny Boy Williams play a harp as he spit blood.

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By the time it was all over, The Last Waltz
had been heralded by critics as "the most beautiful
rock film ever made". It was a chronicle of the
rock-and-roll era, and set a standard for feature
length concert films. It is still regarded as
the best concert movie of all time.

How is the transfer?

In a word, Remarkable.

This 25th Anniversary edition of The Last
has been meticulously restored to
perfection with a transfer that shows none of
the film's age. Through dozens of lighting
motifs and deep red back lit lighting, the transfer
remains void of any color over saturation or video
noise. Picture is pristine clear with absolutely
no artifacts whatsoever.

Going back to the original master tapes,
the soundtrack was remixed in 5.1 Surround
stereo. The result is a robust, kick-ass
sonic performance that should be played at
high levels. The main thrust of music and
vocals span across the three front channels.
The rears support the music, adding the sounds
of the cheering audience whose applause and
whistles come from different corners of the room.
I was surprised as to how much bass is evident
not only from the front mains, but the subwoofer
as well, which produced loud thumps against the
beats of the drums.

Special Features

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MGM pulled out all the stops to make the film's
25th Anniversary debut on DVD a special one.
Presented in LIMITED EDITION packaging, the
plastic DVD case is housed in a handsome
cardboard slipcase with the film's logo in
raised lettering.

Inside the box is a collectable booklet authored
by Robbie Robertson, giving an insightful account
of the group's journey from its earliest days as
"The Hawks" to their tours and recordings right
up to the end of 1976.

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There are 2 full-length audio commentaries
included. The first is with Robertson and
Scorcese. The second is with remaining 'Band'
members Levon Helm and Garth Hudson, musicians
Ronnie Hawkins and Mavis Staples, as well as
production crew members and music journalists.

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A behind-the-scenes featurette, Revisiting
The Last Waltz
, takes us to present day as
Robbie Robertson and Martin Scorsese talk about
their initial meetings to document the concert
on film. It's interesting to note that Scorcese
never got paid. There was no contract. The idea
was to make this film out of love for the music.
Scorsese recalls bringing aboard Production
Designer Boris Leven who dreamed of bringing
the set of La Traviata to stage, highlighting
it all with hanging chandeliers. Robbie Robertson
describes his amazement at Scorcese's vision
for filming this concert, watching him create
a 300-page musical script that spelled out every
camera shot, every lighting mood, every angle.
Scorcese describes his shots comparing it to
filming a prizefight. (length: approx. 20 min.)

Archival Outtakes is a never-before-seen
"Jam Footage" segment that is the only archival
footage available from the film. The session
was originally recorded near the end of the
evening as Paul Butterfield, Eric Clapton,
Dr. John, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Carl Radle,
Robbie Robertson, Ringo Starr, Stephen Stills,
Ronnie Wood
and Neil Young took the
stage. This rather long musical jam session
lasts nearly 11 minutes when suddenly the screen
goes blue. A disclaimer comes up stating that
the 35mm cameras were not built for such extensive
shooting and had to be shut down as they were on
a verge of a meltdown. You can opt to play back
this session in either 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround.

An extensive photo gallery captures the
promotional photos, poster art and lobby cards.
Nearly 100 rare images are presented here.

The original theatrical trailer for the
film is presented as well as a shorter TV SPOT

Final Thoughts

This was my first viewing experience of the
The Last Waltz When it premiered in 1978,
I was still listening to 70's pop music. I didn't
become a fan of rock-and-roll until 1987 when I
was already in my 20's. It was then I quickly
listened to every piece of music I could from
THE BEATLES to PINK FLOYD. Being a fan of most
all the musicians who appeared in this film, I
was absolutely in my glory to watch these
musicians in their prime and remember a piece
of rock-and-roll history that is forever gone.

MGM has done more than a tribute to this film.
They have put together an outstanding transfer
and package that chronicles the end of a musical

For any fan of rock-and-roll, this DVD belongs
in your collection.

Release Date: May 7, 2002

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner


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#2 of 46 OFFLINE   John Geelan

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Posted April 17 2002 - 05:17 AM

Thanks Ron, great review. This is one of those must own Music DVDs that one will reach for often and play LOUD!

What a great film that captures what 70's rock was like.
It is a lost era.

JohnGPosted Image

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#3 of 46 OFFLINE   MartinTeller



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Posted April 17 2002 - 05:24 AM

How are the commentary tracks? With all of the friction between Robertson and the rest of the group, I imagine there might be some stinging remarks.

#4 of 46 OFFLINE   Craig S

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Posted April 17 2002 - 05:28 AM

Great review, Ron! I'm really looking forward to this one.

I must say I am becoming more & more impressed with the work MGM is doing lately. This looks like a top-notch package in every way.

Three truths about movies, as noted by Roger Ebert:


* It's not what a movie is about, it's how it is about it.

* No good movie is too long, and no bad movie is short enough.

* No good movie is depressing, all bad movies are depressing.

#5 of 46 OFFLINE   Jeff_A



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Posted April 17 2002 - 05:53 AM

Great review and even better news on the quality of the release. I was purchasing this title regardless, but now my eagerness has doubled in intensity. Thanks, Ron!

#6 of 46 OFFLINE   Heinz W

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Posted April 17 2002 - 06:42 AM

Like Jeff I was buying this title regardless of the quality, but I'm just thrilled care has been taken to make it outstanding. Can't wait!

On my shelf this will go right next to the Year of the Horse, the amazing Neil Young film by Jim Jarmusch.

#7 of 46 OFFLINE   Kevin Leonard

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Posted April 17 2002 - 07:09 AM

Thanks the sneak peek, Ron!

So nice to see that MGM is giving this film the deluxe treatment, considering this is second only to Stop Making Sense as the finest concert movie ever made, IMHO.

It's also a pleasure to see Scorsese's films getting such wonderful treatment on DVD; MGM also did a stellar audio/video transfer of his film Boxcar Bertha...I wonder if they're sitting on anything else of his in the vaults? Posted Image
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#8 of 46 OFFLINE   Greg_Y



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Posted April 17 2002 - 07:17 AM

Joining the band that evening were Bon Dylan

Blasphemy! There is but one and his name is Bob! Posted Image

Thanks for the review, Ron. I've had this pre-ordered for a while and am eagerly awaiting both the DVD and the new CD boxed set.

#9 of 46 OFFLINE   Jeff Bamberger

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Posted April 17 2002 - 08:00 AM

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I agree. I was planning on getting this regardless, and Ron's review just puts the icing on the cake.

I cannot wait!!!

#10 of 46 OFFLINE   SteveGon


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Posted April 17 2002 - 08:38 AM

With the release of The Last Waltz and Criterion's Monterey Pop, it's gonna be a great summer for fans of classic rock and roll! Peace! Posted Image

#11 of 46 OFFLINE   Jesper


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Posted April 17 2002 - 08:54 AM

Remeber the DVD Audio version is comming May 14 (I have ordered mine! Posted Image
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#12 of 46 OFFLINE   ChrisMatson



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Posted April 17 2002 - 09:04 AM

I have recently started listenning to 70s rock. I picked up Gimme Shelter on a whim and loved it. For $17.09 shipped, I can't pass on this one.

#13 of 46 OFFLINE   Richard Smith

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Posted April 17 2002 - 10:04 AM

Great to hear that The Last Waltz has been done right on DVD as this is easily my most anticipated May title. It'll be getting near continous play 'round here as my Dad's a big fan of The Band as well.


#14 of 46 OFFLINE   Jeff_A



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Posted April 17 2002 - 10:27 AM

For $17.09 shipped, I can't pass on this one.

That's the very same deal I jumped on! Posted Image

#15 of 46 OFFLINE   David James

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Posted April 17 2002 - 12:05 PM

Where did you guys find it for $17.09 shipped?

#16 of 46 OFFLINE   Henry Gale

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Posted April 17 2002 - 12:14 PM

Tower is offering the DVD for 15.99. I'd pay that just to hear the Ronnie Hawkins commentary.


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#17 of 46 OFFLINE   Ed St. Clair

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Posted April 17 2002 - 05:55 PM

Movies are: "The Greatest Artform".
HD should be for EVERYONE!

#18 of 46 OFFLINE   ChrisMatson



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Posted April 18 2002 - 01:45 AM

$17.09 @ deepdiscountdvd.com, CLICK HERE. If you want it on the day of release, look somewhere else. DDD usually gets pre-releases delivered for free a few days after release.

#19 of 46 OFFLINE   Rob Tomlin

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Posted April 18 2002 - 09:10 AM

Great review Ron!

However, I would point out that you (like many other HTFer's here) misspelled the directors name. It is Martin Scorsese, not Scorcese!

Hey, I had to find something wrong with the review! Posted Image

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#20 of 46 OFFLINE   Jim Ferguson

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Posted April 21 2002 - 05:40 AM

This is one of the movies they showed very frequently as the "midnight movie" back in my hometown in the late 70s. I'm sure I've seen it 10 or 15 times. I can't wait to get a copy. I may watch it at midnight just for old times sake Posted Image