AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Last Waltz
Director: Martin Scorsese (Dir)
Release Date:   1978
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 26 Apr 1978; Los Angeles opening: 3 May 1978
Production Date:   began 25 Nov 1976
Duration (in mins):   115
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Cast:   Robbie Robertson (Lead guitar and vocal, The Band)  
    Rick Danko (Bass, violin and vocal, The Band)  
    Richard Manuel (Piano, keyboards, drums and vocal, The Band)  
    Levon Helm (Drums, mandolin and vocal, The Band)  
    Garth Hudson (Organ, accordion, saxophone and synthesizers, The Band)  
    Eric Clapton    
    Neil Diamond    
    Bob Dylan    
    Joni Mitchell    
    Neil Young    
    Emmylou Harris    
    Ringo Starr    
    Paul Butterfield    
    Dr. John    
    Van Morrison    
    Ronnie Hawkins    
    The Staples    
    Muddy Waters    
    Ron Wood    
    Michael McClure (Introduction to The Canterbury Tales, poems)  
    Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Loud prayer, poems)  
    Martin Scorsese (Interviewer)  
  Horn section, the concert: Jim Gordon    
    Tom Malone    
    Howard Johnson    
    Jerry Hay    
    Richard Cooper    
  [and] Charlie Keagle    
    Larry Packer (Electric violin, the concert)  
    Cleotha Staples    
    Mavis Staples    
    Roebuck Pops Staples    
    Yvonne Staples    

Summary: The film is a live recording of The Band’s final concert, which takes place at the Winterland Arena in San Francisco, California on the evening of Thanksgiving 1976. Members Robbie Robertson, Richard Danko, Richard Manuel, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson play as a group in addition to performing with a wealth of guest musicians, who represent The Band’s wide-ranging influences and collaborations over the years as figures of rock, folk, country, blues and gospel. These guests include Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Neil Young, The Staples Singers, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, Paul Butterfield, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Emmylou Harris, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr and Ron Wood. In the film, the songs appear in the following order: “Don’t Do It,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” “The Shape I’m In,” “Who Do You Love,” “It Makes No Difference,” “Such a Night,” “Helpless,” “Stagefright,” “The Weight,” “That Old Time Religion,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Dry Your Eyes,” “Coyote,” “Mystery Train,” “Mannish Boy,” “Further on Up the Road,” “Sip the Wine,” “Evangeline,” “Genetic Method/Chest Fever,” “Ophelia,” “Caravan,” “Forever Young,” “Baby Let Me Follow You Down,” “I Shall Be Released” and the theme from The Last Waltz. Three of the songs, “The Weight,” “Evangeline” and the theme from The Last Waltz are performed on a soundstage, and “Sip the Wine” and “That Old Time Religion” are heard in the recording studio of Shangri-La, The Band’s clubhouse in Malibu. During intermissions in the concert, Michael McClure recites from the introduction to Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and Lawrence Ferlinghetti reads his poem, Loud Prayer. Between songs, footage is shown of Martin Scorsese’s interviews with The Band members at Shangri-La. Together and separately, they discuss their sixteen-year history, including stories about playing in Jack Ruby’s club, being poor and stealing food, the hardships and benefits of touring, the origin of the name, “The Band,” living and working at Woodstock, meeting blues musician Sonny Boy Williamson, why Garth Hudson was paid as the group’s music teacher, the inspirations of New York and Tin Pan Alley, the melting pot of Memphis music and the influence of traveling minstrel shows on rock and roll performance. 

Production Company: Last Waltz Productions  
Production Text: A Martin Scorsese Film
Distribution Company: United Artists Corp. (Transamerica Corp.)
Director: Martin Scorsese (Dir)
  Melvin D. Dellar (Unit prod mgr)
  Jerry Grandey (1st asst dir)
  James Quinn (1st asst dir)
  Linda McMurray (2d asst dir)
Producer: Robbie Robertson (Prod)
  Jonathan Taplin (Exec prod)
  Bill Graham (Concert prod)
  Steven Prince (Assoc prod)
  L. A. Johnson (Line prod, concert)
  Frank Marshall (Line prod, studio)
Writer: Mardik Martin (Trmt and creative consultant)
Photography: Michael Chapman (Dir of photog)
  Laszlo Kovacs (Addl dir of photog)
  Vilmos Zsigmond (Addl dir of photog)
  David Myers (Addl dir of photog)
  Bobby Byrne (Addl dir of photog)
  Michael Watkins (Addl dir of photog)
  Hiro Narita (Addl dir of photog)
  Fred Schuler (Cam op)
  Joe Marquette (Cam op)
  Ray J. De La Motte (Cam op)
  Sean Doyle (Cam op)
  Hans Baumgartner (1st asst cam)
  Dustin Blauvelt (1st asst cam)
  Gary Boren (1st asst cam)
  Lawrence Gruenberg (1st asst cam)
  W. Steven Peterson (1st asst cam)
  Anthony Rivetti (1st asst cam)
  Tibor Sands (1st asst cam)
  George Stevenson (1st asst cam)
  Ted Sugiura (1st asst cam)
  John Toll (1st asst cam)
  Ronald Vargas (1st asst cam)
  Tim Griffith (Chief set elec)
  Don C. Stott (Chief set elec)
  Cary E. Griffith (Key grip)
  William E. Kratiger (Gaffer)
  Walter Nichols (Gaffer)
  Delton Bass (Lighting, FM Productions, concert prod)
  Ed Stewart (Lighting, FM Productions, concert prod)
  Pattim Services (Lighting equip provided by)
  MGM Laboratories (Processing by)
  Charles Colegrove (2d asst cam)
  Joseph Cosko, Jr. (2d asst cam)
  Alan Disler (2d asst cam)
  Edward L. Rich (2d asst cam)
Art Direction: Boris Leven (Prod des)
Film Editor: Yeu-Bun Yee (Ed)
  Jan Roblee (Ed)
  Karen V. Hoenig (Asst ed)
  Eric Sears (Asst ed)
Set Decoration: Anthony Mondell (Set dec)
  Jay Drevers (Const coord, FM Productions, concert prod)
Costumes: Richard La Motte (Cost supv)
Music: John Simon (Concert mus prod)
  Ken Wannberg (Mus ed)
  Robert H. Raff (Mus ed)
  Sonny J. Olivera (Mus coord)
Sound: Rob Fraboni (Sd track prod)
  Richard L. Oswald (Sd eff ed)
  Paul Laune (Sd eff ed)
  Ed Anderson (Chief tech eng)
  Jerry L. Levinson (Asst sd eff ed)
  Steve Maslow (Re-rec mixer)
  Bill Varney (Re-rec mixer)
  Elliot Mazer (Rec eng, the concert)
  Tim Kramer (Rec eng, the concert)
  Neil Brody (Rec eng, the concert)
  Jeremy Zatkin (Rec eng, the concert)
  Andy Bloch (Rec eng, the concert)
  Rick Ash (Rec eng, the concert)
  Stuart Taylor (Rec eng, the concert)
  Steve Katz (Dolby consulting eng, the concert)
  Steve Gagne (Sd, FM Productions, concert prod)
  Filmways/Heider Recording (Rec)
  Enactron Truck (Rec)
  Goldwyn Studios (Re-rec)
  Michael Evje (Prod sd mixer)
  Don Lusby (Prod sd mixer)
  Arthur Rochester (Prod sd mixer)
  Nelson Stoll (Prod sd mixer)
  James R. Wright (Prod sd mixer)
  Ray Thompson (Rec eng, Filmways/Heider, the concert)
  Paul Sandweiss (Rec eng, Filmways/Heider, the concert)
  Jerry Stroud (Rec eng, Filmways/Heider, the concert)
  Dennis Mays (Rec eng, Filmways/Heider, the concert)
  Wray Smallwood (Enaction Truck eng, the concert)
  Donovan Cowart (Enaction Truck eng, the concert)
  Bradley Hartman (Enaction Truck eng, the concert)
Special Effects: Modern Film Effects (Opt eff)
  Dan Perri (Title des)
Make Up: Gloria Montemayor (Hairstylist)
  John Norin (Makeup artist)
Production Misc: Ava Megna (Asst to prod)
  James C. Glauber (Asst to Mr. Scorsese)
  Sylvia Lovegren (Prod secy)
  Jeanne Field (Asst prod coord)
  Paul Kimatian (Asst prod coord)
  Hannah G. Scheel (Scr supv)
  Peter Knoop (Prod asst)
  Dayle Michelle (Prod asst)
  Ron Rapiel (Prod asst)
  Susan Winslow (Prod asst)
  Sandy Castle (Road mgr, the concert)
  Rock Brynner (Road mgr, the concert)
  Taylor Phelps (Road mgr, the concert)
  Cliff Crumpler (Equip mgr, the concert)
  Jerry Kasky (Equip mgr, the concert)
  Barry Imhoff (Guest coord and logistics, concert prod)
  FM Productions (Concert prod)
  Dave Furano (Admin exec, FM Productions, concert prod)
  Danny Scher (Admin exec, FM Productions, concert prod)
  Peter Barsotti (Prod coord, FM Productions, concert prod)
  Gregory Malozzi (Prod coord, FM Productions, concert prod)
  Zohn Artman (Public relations, FM Productions, concert prod)
  Queenie Taylor (Advertising, FM Productions, concert prod)
  Clayton Johnson (Stage mgr, FM Productions, concert prod)
  Winterland Arena, San Francisco (Filmed at)
  MGM Studios, Culver City (Filmed at )
  Shangri-La Studios (Filmed at )
  MGM Studios (Prod facilities)
  Neil Canton (Prod asst)
  Paul Marbury (Prod asst)
  Michael O'Callahan (Prod asst)
  Sally Stringer (Prod asst)
MPAA Rating: PG
Country: United States
Language: English

Music: "Theme from The Last Waltz," written by Robbie Robertson, performed by The Band; "Genetic Method/Chest Fever," written and performed by Garth Hudson.
Songs: "Who Do You Love," written by Bo Diddley, performed by Ronnie Hawkins and The Band; "Such A Night," written by Malcolm John Rebennack, performed by Dr. John and The Band; "Helpless," written by Neil Young, performed by Neil Young, The Band and Joni Mitchell; "The Weight," written by Robbie Robertson, performed by The Staples and The Band; "Dry Your Eyes," written by Neil Diamond and Robbie Robertson, performed by Neil Diamond and The Band; "Coyote," written by Joni Mitchell, performed by Joni Mitchell and The Band; "Mystery Train," written by Herman Parker and Sam C. Phillips, performed by Paul Butterfield and The Band; "Mannish Boy," written by Melvin London, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters, performed by Muddy Waters and The Band; "Further On Up the Road," written by Don D. Robey and Joe M. Veasey, performed by Eric Clapton and The Band; "Evangeline," written by Robbie Robertson, performed by Emmylou Harris and The Band; "Caravan," written by Van Morrison, performed by Van Morrison and The Band; "Forever Young," written by Bob Dylan, performed by Bob Dylan and The Band; "Baby Let Me Follow You Down," written by Gary Davis, performed by Bob Dylan and The Band; "I Shall Be Released," written by Bob Dylan, performed by The Band, Paul Butterfield, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Ron Wood and Neil Young; "Don't Do It," written by Lamont Herbert Dozier, Brian Holland and Eddie Holland under the title, "Baby Don't You Do It," performed by The Band; "Up On Cripple Creek," written by Robbie Robertson, performed by The Band; "Shape I'm In," written by Robbie Robertson, performed by The Band; "It Makes No Difference," written by Robbie Robertson, performed by The Band; "Stagefright," written by Robbie Robertson, performed by The Band; "The Weight," written by Robbie Robertson, performed by The Band; "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," written by Robbie Robertson, performed by The Band; “Chest Fever,” written by Robbie Robertson, performed by The Band; "Ophelia" written by Robbie Robertson, performed by The Band; "Old Time Religion," traditional gospel, performed by The Band; "Sip the Wine," written and performed by Rick Danko, courtesy of Arista Records, Inc.
Composer: Richard Danko
  Gary Davis
  Neil Diamond
  Bo Diddley
  Lamont Herbert Dozier
  Bob Dylan
  Brian Holland
  Eddie Holland
  Garth Hudson
  Melvin London
  Joni Mitchell
  Van Morrison
  Herbert Parker
  Sam C. Phillips
  Malcolm John Rebennack
  Robbie Robertson
  Don D. Robey
  Joe M. Veasey
  Muddy Waters
  Neil Young
Source Text:

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
The Last Waltz Productions, Inc. 27/11/1978 dd/mm/yyyy PA22827

PCA NO: 25097
Physical Properties: Sd: Dolby Stereo
  col: Color filters by Lee Filters, LTD.
  Lenses/Prints: Lenses and Panaflex cameras by Panavision®; Prints by Deluxe®

 
Genre: Documentary
  Performance
Sub-Genre: with songs
 
 
Subjects (Major): Concerts
  Musicians
 
Subjects (Minor): Bands (Music)
  Blues music
  Country music
  Drums and drummers
  Folk music
  Harmonicas
  Interviews
  Jack Ruby
  Malibu (CA)
  Memphis (TN)
  Minstrel shows
  Music fans
  Music halls
  New York City
  Organs
  Poetry
  Rock and roll music
  San Francisco (CA)

Note: Prior to the title credits, the following written statement appears: "THIS FILM SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD!" The end credits include “special thanks” to the following: "David A. Braun; Bob Cato; Michael De Temple; The Film League, Inc.; Blaine Novak; Doug Dilg; Russell Schwartz; Amy Sayres; Mary Wilkinson; Marshall Gelfand; Henry Glover; Lance Grode; Albert Grossman; Thelma Schoonmaker; Connie Hayes; Norman's Rare Guitars; Bob Oppenheim; Mo Ostin; Sara Owen; Thomas Rarick, Berkeley Promenade Orchestra; featured dancers, Lisa Mariea Altamirano and Steven Gok; Tom Rashford; Ken Regan; Bill Rose; Tom Ross; Barry Siegel; Village Recorder; Paul Wasserman."
       In the screen credits at the end, second assistant director Linda McMurray is listed as “Linda Mc Murray” and poet Michael McClure is listed as “Michael Mc Clure.”
       According to a 30 Apr 1978 LAT article, when the decision was made for The Band to discontinue live performing after sixteen years, Robbie Robertson, the lead guitarist and songwriter, evolved the idea of making a film that was not just a simple recording of the farewell concert. The origins of the project are furthered outlined in the production notes at the AMPAS library. Jonathan Taplin, The Band’s former manager, had been the producer for Martin Scorsese’s film, Mean Streets (1973, see entry), and introduced Robertson to the director. Besides having an instinct for choosing music in his films, Scorsese had experience with concert footage as one of several editors on Woodstock (1970, see entry) and Elvis on Tour (1972, see entry). Robertson and Scorsese mapped out in detail how to shoot the performances from multiple camera angles and in the process, created a “300–page shooting script,” matching camera positions to the music lyrics and cues. In an 18 Jun 1978 LAT article, Scorsese called it a book of diagrams and text, which he presented to Robertson as a Christmas gift.
       Having just finished a lengthy shooting schedule on New York, New York (1977, see entry) Scorsese only had a couple of weeks to prepare for the concert, according to an 18 Jun 1978 LAT article. As noted in a 29 May 1978 Village Voice article, he tried to keep his involvement in the project discreet, so as not to appear in conflict with his commitment to New York, New York from which he was taking a break between filming and editing. Scorsese referred to working on The Last Waltz as “‘therapy’” during a difficult time that included the U.S. box-office failure of New York, New York and the break-up of his marriage. Furthermore, in the 18 Jun 1978 LAT piece, he said that The Last Waltz was the only one of his movies that he could view repeatedly.
       As explained in the production notes, The Band chose to stage their farewell at The Winterland Arena in San Francisco, California, the concert hall where they first appeared as a prominent folk-rock group in 1969. Boris Leven, the production designer, who had recently worked with Scorsese on New York, New York, created a backdrop inspired by the films of Luchino Visconti. The set was rented at a cost of $8,000 from the San Francisco Opera’s production of La Traviata, and the chandeliers had been used as props in Gone With the Wind (1939, see entry). These design elements were part of Scorsese’s operatic concept for the project. The director, in an 18 Jun 1978 LAT piece, and Robertson, in a 17 Apr 1978 DV interview, both referred to The Last Waltz as “‘experimental,’” in its attempt to bring a new look to the concert film. The production notes cited it as the first music documentary made on 35mm, as well as pointed out that the camera choreography used on the soundstages was inspired by classic movie musicals. Even during the concert, Scorsese covered the performances as if they were film scenes by employing pans and zooms, and he wanted to capture the character of the musicians and how they reacted to each other, a concept mentioned in a 30 Apr 1978 LAT article and a 16 May 1978 HR article.
       The production notes stated that the logistics required eight cameramen, and as director of photography, Michael Chapman was the leader of a distinguished crew, including Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond who received the Oscar for Best Cinematography for Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, see entry). Kovacs decided not to take the job of D.P., as originally intended, because he was exhausted after completing the cinematography for New York, New York, but was available to be one of the camera operators, which was reported in a 18 Jun 1978 LAT article. During the concert, Zsigmond was responsible for coverage from the back of the arena on a tower that had been erected for the sole purpose of capturing wide- angle shots, as mentioned in a 29 May 1978 Village Voice article. Additionally, each photography unit on stage was instructed on specific movements such as tracking shots, which were limited to approximately six inches. Scorsese and his crew strategically placed equipment in order to not obstruct the audience’s view, and only one operator, David Myers, was allowed to roam the stage with a hand-held camera, so as not to distract the musicians. Furthermore, a decision was made to de-emphasize the concert audience, in contrast to the style of Woodstock. Scorsese thought that the audience watching the documentary would be more engaged if the focus was on the performers and the music.
       A 6 Dec 1976 Time article reported from the event that 5,000 people were in attendance on 25 Nov 1976, paying $25 per ticket for an event that began with a Thanksgiving dinner of turkey and salmon, as well as an orchestra for dancing, which Robertson confirmed during his commentary for the 2002 DVD edition. The concert started around 9:00pm with The Band playing a set, followed by the performances of the guest musicians, which was stated in the production notes. Thirty-seven songs were played during the concert. The first song that opened the film, “Don’t Do It” was the last song played at the concert, an idea proposed by one of the editors, Jan Roblee, as cited in a 29 May 1978 Village Voice article. Accounts about the duration of the concert ranged from five hours, as noted in a 17 Apr 1978 DV article, to seven hours, which is mentioned in a 21 Jun 1978 DV article.
       As explained in the production notes, the project pioneered in bringing the quality of 24-track music recording to filmmaking and used six sound men during the concert. A column in the 21 Jun 1978 DV interviewed Ed Lever who was responsible for merging two different methods of recording, from the music industry and motion picture industry, so that a multi-track audio mix would sync to the camera changes. Lever claimed that the post-production sound was completed in three months and involved upgrading a dubbing stage at Goldwyn Studios into a music-recording studio.
       In a 16 May 1978 HR article, Scorsese said that Brian De Palma, Vincente Minnelli, Sam Fuller and others who viewed the rough cut of the concert footage were intrigued by the musicians and encouraged him to include background material on The Band. Therefore, Scorsese filmed interviews with the group for two days at their studio, Shangri-La, in Malibu, California. The three songs performed on the MGM soundstage in Culver City were also shot after the concert. In the article, Scorsese added that he worked on the cutting of the The Last Waltz at night after editing New York, New York during the day, and the slow pace meant it could take a week to assemble one song.
       Scorsese’s additional commitments, as well as the complexities of preparing the Dolby stereo print, were the reasons cited in a 30 Apr 1978 LAT article for a postponement of the film’s opening. However, a column in the 6 Jan 1978 HR claimed that the release was pushed from 15 Feb 1978 to mid-Apr 1978 in order to resolve legal issues with Bob Dylan, who was reluctant to sign clearances if the documentary competed with his own film, Renaldo & Clara (see entry), scheduled for Jan 1978. After contacting Dylan’s spokesman and producer Taplin, the 14 Jan 1978 LAT confirmed that Dylan had signed the necessary releases and was not responsible for the holdup, which was primarily caused by the audio track, according to Taplin. In an interview for DV from 17 Apr 1978, Robertson clarified that Dylan was concerned that if both films were released simultaneously, United Artists as a major distributor, would have the ability to “bury” a smaller film like Renaldo & Clara. Robertson added that Dylan was “‘very excited’” to be a part of The Last Waltz.
       The film initially received an R rating by the MPAA due to language, but after an appeal it was changed to a PG, as noted in a 30 Apr 1978 LAT article.
       Following its world premiere at New York’s Ziegfeld Theatre on 26 Apr 1978, the film was presented as a midnight screening at the Cannes Film Festival on 27 May 1978, according to announcements in studio press releases.
       The studio also reported that the film earned a promising box-office gross of $65,000 in its first week of release at the Ziegfeld. The budget was cited between $1.5 and $2 million in a 17 Apr 1978 DV article, which also included information that The Band, Scorsese and the guest musicians did not receive money up front, but had negotiated participation in any profits.
       In an article from the 3 May 1979 Rolling Stone, Dave Marsh criticized AMPAS for ignoring the film in several Academy Award categories, most notably as Best Documentary. In 1993, Levon Helm, a lead vocalist and drummer for the group, published a memoir, This Wheel’s on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band, in which he wrote about his strong opposition to the farewell concert because, unlike Robertson, he believed there was no reason for The Band to stop performing. He also claimed that he had little input with the film, which he disdained as Robertson’s entry to Hollywood and revealed numerous problems that occurred during preparation and shooting. The British newspaper The Independent printed an excerpt of the book in their 10 Apr 1994 edition.
       After a sound and color renovation, the film premiered again at the Ziegfeld on 10 Apr 2002 and was subsequently rereleased in Los Angeles and New York, as reported in a 27 Mar 2002 HR brief. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   3 Dec 1976.   
Daily Variety   17 Apr 1978   p. 3.
Daily Variety   21 Jun 1978   p. 15, 19.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Jan 1978   p. 1, 33.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Feb 1978.   
Hollywood Reporter   12 Apr 1978   p. 3, 19.
Hollywood Reporter   16 May 1978   p. S-58.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Mar 2002.   
Independent   10 Apr 1994.   
Los Angeles Times   14 Jan 1978.   
Los Angeles Times   30 Apr 1978   Calendar, p. 80.
Los Angeles Times   18 Jun 1978   p. 38, 41.
New York Times   26 Apr 1978   p. 15.
Rolling Stone   3 May 1979   p. 40.
Time   6 Dec 1976.   
Variety   12 Apr 1978   p. 27.
Village Voice   29 May 1978   p. 41, 43.

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