The Criterion Voyages (Spine #1118): THE LAST WALTZ -- One of the Greatest Concert Docs Ever Finally Enters the Collection
By Sean Boelman
When looking at any list of the greatest music documentaries of all time, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz would consistently rank near the top, so it’s surprising that it took this long for the film to earn a spot in the Criterion Collection. A wonderful restoration of a brilliant movie, this is a must-add to any cinephile’s physical media collection.
The film documents the final concert of the music group The Band at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving 1976. It’s one of the most iconic moments in rock music history, and we as music fans are lucky that this has been captured on film to be experienced by generations to come, and by someone as talented as Scorsese.
This Scorsese fella sure knows how to do music documentaries, having worked as an assistant editor on what is arguably the greatest movie of the genre, Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock. And the ability that film had to transport the audience back to a particular moment in American music history is not lost here.
The movie wonderfully captures the magic of not only this concert, but the music of The Band as a whole. The Band blends so many musical genres in their work, and Scorsese manages to show the different elements that went into the creation of their signature sound without overtly explaining it. It’s a dream for fans of a good music doc.
Obviously, the concert is captured wonderfully in the film. Scorsese uses a shooting style that feels extraordinarily intimate. It’s not like we are watching a camera point at the stage, the movie aims to make us feel like we are a part of this experience and understand what fans were feeling if they were watching this concert live, and it works extraordinarily well.
Scorsese also weaves in backstage interviews with The Band in between the bits of their performance footage. But unlike a lot of other music documentaries, this does not feel like a crutch. Instead, it feels like a natural extension of what we are seeing — a way to get to know The Band more intimately.
Admittedly, the bonus content on this Criterion spine is a bit underwhelming, much of it carried over from previous special editions, like a 2002 making-of documentary and two audio commentaries. Still, the restoration (supervised by Robbie Robertson) is so extraordinary that it’s more than worth the upgrade.
If you haven’t yet seen The Last Waltz, now is the time. It is truly a seminal music documentary, and this new Criterion Collection 4K transfer is one that any collector will want to have on their shelf.
The Criterion Collection edition of The Last Waltz releases on March 29.
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