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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Last Waltz is a documentary directed by Martin Scorsese that celebrates the final concert of The Band, an iconic rock-and-roll group from the 1960s and 1970s. Gathering at San Francisco's Winterland arena on Thanksgiving 1978, a profusion of esteemed musicians joined The Band in what is considered one of the great rock events of all time. Luminaries such as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, and a host of others took the stage to sing some of their own standards alongside The Band's gifted artists playing the group's classics. It's almost all music, all the time. Director Scorsese interrupts the concert only for brief conversational sessions with the members of The Band, scenes that give small insights into the personalities and recollections of the group. Two profanities are heard: "ass" and "p--y." It's prototypical 1978 "rock band" lore in a relaxed atmosphere. The guys laugh a lot, smoke a lot (on at least once occasion, a joint is rolled), and regale the inquisitive director with stories of past escapades (some involving drinking) and fun.
What's the story?
Thanksgiving Night, 1978, "The Band" is on stage in San Francisco for their final concert, and Martin Scorsese films that concert to make movie history in THE LAST WALTZ. In just under two hours, The Band Members Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, and Garth Hudson deliver astonishing performances in a selection of the group's most popular and classic tunes. Along with them, guest artists -- including Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Neil Diamond, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and more -- make music magic. Scorsese knows that, and only interrupts what he has filmed of the extensive program to sit down and talk with the band's members in brief anecdotal conversations that add heart, context, and personal memories to the mix. Lead Robbie Robertson gets the most screen time, but Scorsese finds the unique voices of the others as well.
Is it any good?
The brilliance of Director Martin Scorsese combines with the great music, talent, and charismatic personalities of the members of The Band to create a stunning concert film. Lauded when it was first released in 1978, The Last Waltz more than holds up. It's actually mellowed and gotten richer with age. Songs like "The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down," "Take A Load Off Annie," and "It Makes No Difference" never sounded and looked better. The film is dynamic, graceful, wonderfully directed and edited, with great attention paid to all the distinguished guests as well as the musical force that was The Band. In addition, the group's members come across as hard-working professionals who genuinely care about one another. Recommended for rock fans, then and now.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the fact that The Last Waltz is considered a landmark concert film. What it is about Director Martin Scorsese's work that makes it special? Think about the arts of editing, sound mixing, and production design. How did the director turn his vision into an intensely personal experience for the viewer?
At the opening of the film, viewers are encouraged to watch the movie with the sound turned up. Then, during conversation sessions, the sound is recorded at a low level. How does that trick show that the filmmakers are actually mixing the sound so that viewers will have to follow their instructions?
Despite the fact that "The Band" members were originally from Canada, the group is considered to represent the very best of "Americana" in rock-and-roll history. Find out what "Americana" means as a musical term.
As is true of many rock-and-roll icons, several members of "The Band" died at a relatively young age. Where would you go to find out what happened to them? How do these events become cautionary tales about such a public and unique lifestyle?
- In theaters: April 26, 1978
- On DVD or streaming: May 7, 2002
- Cast: Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Bob Dylan
- Director: Martin Scorsese
- Studio: MGM Home Entertainment
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Friendship, Music and Sing-Along
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 117 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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