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The Last Waltz: Long, Hard Road

<i>The Last Waltz: </i>Long, Hard Road

The Last Waltz (1978), Martin Scorsese’s extraordinary document of the Band at the terminus of its career, is a concert film about the euphoria of live music—though unlike other rock-and-roll documentaries, which tend toward the light and hagiographical, it also understands the ways in which a lifetime of performing can begin to unravel a person. Those two ideas, held in balance—music can be ecstatic to witness yet devastating to create—give The Last Waltz unprecedented depth. Every astonishing moment, from bassist Rick Danko’s wailing through “It Makes No Difference” (one of the purest and most despairing songs ever written) to the room-quaking glee of “Such a Night” (featuring the New Orleans pianist Dr. John), helps build a true and exhaustive portrait of five men straddling a chasm.

By the midseventies, the Band was brittle, tired, banged-up. The group had been playing together since the late fifties, when they first came together in Toronto to back the Canadian rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins; a few years later, they did the same for a gone-electric Bob Dylan. Between 1968 and 1975, the Band released several near-perfect records: Music from Big Pink, The Band, Stage Fright, and (with Dylan) The Basement Tapes. They spent those years playing, playing, playing. The Last Waltz records their final moments onstage, after they had made the decision to retire from touring forever.

Martin Scorsese

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