Fans of legendary rock ‘n’ roll group The Band are likely more than familiar with Martin Scorsese’s fabled music documentary The Last Waltz, which chronicles the band’s final concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day in 1976. For devotees, this documentary isn’t just a recording of a great performance, it’s an essential artifact of 1970s rock music, as vital a document as the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers or Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.
And certainly, plenty of the era’s icons appear in the film: Bob Dylan (wearing a comically large hat), Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Dr. John, Ringo Starr, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, Muddy Waters and plenty more contribute to these renditions of The Band’s most legendary songs. Those curious about the quality of what’s captured here would be wise to check out the performance of “The Weight,” in which guest vocals from Mavis Staples turn an already indelible song into a transcendent moment. If that doesn’t move you even a little, then maybe music just isn’t for you.
Similar to last year’s The Beatles: Get Back, The Last Waltz feels particularly stunning almost 45 years later as an encapsulation of a specific pop-culture moment. In this stunning new 4K remaster from Criterion, the backstage interviews with band members like Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko feel more immediate than ever, and being able to witness casual conversation between the band and Scorsese himself feels like a miracle. What prevents The Last Waltz from reaching masterpiece status is that much of the backstage banter doesn’t add up to anything too substantive, and after the aforementioned Get Back, the audience isn’t given much insight into the creative process or the band’s dissolution, rather just the (admittedly wonderful) fruits of its labor.
Of the special features here, there’s only one new thing of note, which is an interview between Scorsese and critic David Fear. While it isn’t indispensable, Scorsese remains as lively and engaging an interview subject as ever, and certain movie lovers on Twitter may be shocked to discover the man does, in fact, make more than just mob movies.