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The Last Waltz: Special Edition

When the rock group known collectively as The Band decided to hang it up and stop touring, they started planning one huge, final farewell concert. Scheduled for Thanksgiving Day 1976 at Bill Graham's famous San Francisco venue, Wonderland, it became an event with musicians who were both friends and influences over the years. Martin Scorsese threw his typically obsessive creative weight behind the project, resulting in The Last Waltz, which has been called the greatest concert film ever made (of course, so have D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back and Monterey Pop, as well as Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock.) And it may well be — although perhaps not for the reasons one might assume. In 1976, hippie-rock was on its way out and punk and New Wave hadn't quite started to seep onto the radio, drugs were everywhere, and it's impossible to watch the film without the legendary stories about it resonating in your brain. With that in mind, it's easy to see the weariness in the members of The Band in 1976. On stage, the group are professional and play with the sort of beautiful, tight, almost telepathic connection that comes from 16 years together. But they look tired, and there isn't any joy in their eyes. Most of the guest artists liven up things a bit, especially Eric Clapton, Paul Butterfield, Dr. John, and Muddy Waters, but some seem strangely out of place. Bob Dylan, surprisingly, has no real connection to the band members on stage with him at all; Neil Diamond looks like he wandered into the wrong concert; and Joni Mitchell just appears to be supremely pissed off about something. What makes The Last Waltz great, even more than the music, is Scorsese's obsessive eye. There are no crowd shots in the film, save what you see when the band is captured from the rear of the stage looking out. And very little time is spent on long shots of the stage as a whole. The film is amazingly intimate, lingering on faces more than guitar licks, catching the seamless way that the players communicate on stage. Unlike so many concert films that really are just archival records, the result isn't to make you feel as if you were at the concert — it's to make you feel as if you were part of the concert. MGM's 25th anniversary release of The Last Waltz: Special Edition offers a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Includes a commentary with Martin Scorsese and Robbie Robertson, a second commentary with various concert participants, extended concert footage (12 min.), a "making-of" featurette (22 min.), stills, the trailer and TV spot, and an eight-page booklet written by Robertson. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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