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Martin Scorsese
The Band, Bob Dylan, Neil Young

17 years after joining forces as the backing band for rockabilly cult hero Ronnie Hawkins, Canadian roots rockers The Band call it quits with a lavish farewell show at San Francisco's Winterland.

Rated PG.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Dolby Vision
English DTS-HD MA 5.1 (2001 Mix)
English PCM Stereo (2001 Mix)
English DTS-HD MA 2.0 (1978 Mix)
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 117 min.
Price: $49.95
Release Date: 3/29/2022

• Audio Commentary With Director Martin Scorsese and Musician Robbie Robertson
• Audio Commentary With the Band and Others
• “Revisiting The Last Waltz” Featurette
• Archival Footage
• Trailer and TV Spot
• Booklet
• Blu-ray Copy


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
-Marantz SR7010 9.2 Channel Full 4K Ultra HD AV Surround Receiver
-Sony UBP-X800 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


The Last Waltz: Criterion Collection [4K UHD] (1978)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 22, 2022)

Although many regard it as the greatest concert film ever made, I also never took in 1978’s The Last Waltz until its 2002 DVD release. Partly this occurred due to a lack of opportunity, but it also happened because the musicians involved simply didn’t interest me much.

If I don’t like the music, I’ll have trouble with a film that features those songs. While I didn’t actively dislike the Band, they just never clicked with me.

After 16 years together, the Band decided to call it quits in 1976. They started as the Hawks, a support band for Ronnie Hawkins, and went on to semi-fame as the act that played behind Bob Dylan in 1965.

That was the year Dylan made his controversial transition from acoustic folkie to electric rocker. In 1968, the Hawks became the Band and released their first album, the seminal Music From Big Pink. They never achieved immense commercial success, but they influenced many other acts and clearly enjoyed a special place in rock history.

Back in 1976, a 16-year rock career seemed like an eternity, and folks in their 30s appeared ancient. The big deal made about the end of the Band seems especially odd since they’d been a solo act for such a short time. When they split, they’d only existed as a recording entity for eight years.

Nonetheless, they made an impact in that time and they had many powerful friends. When the Band decided to quit, they chose to go out with a bang.

They planned their final concert for Thanksgiving 1976 at San Francisco’s Winterland. They recruited a slew of big-name colleagues for a show they called “The Last Waltz”.

As part of this process, the Band concluded they needed to really document the affair, so they landed then-up-and-coming director Martin Scorsese to achieve this. Coming off of the success of Taxi Driver, Scorsese was mired in the misery of New York, New York, but he took a break to work with the Band.

The result became a classic, mainly because Scorsese didn’t just set up a few cameras and take what he could get. Instead, he planned intensely for the show.

Scorsese studied the songs and came up with storyboards to optimize the presentation of each tune. Scorsese also worked with the Band and others to create the strongest visual imagery, so the stage set and lighting were set up to create something that would work well on film.

From this came a smooth and engaging affair. As I already noted, many view The Last Waltz as the greatest concert film ever made, but I can’t do that, if just because the music doesn’t do a whole lot for me.

Actually, that’s not totally true, as while I watched the movie, I enjoyed many of the tunes more than I expected. The program offered quite a few good songs, a fact definitely aided by the solid musicianship on display. The bond between the Band seemed extremely evident throughout the concert, as they blended nicely and played to each others’ strengths.

But although I liked the music more than I expected, nothing convinced me to radically alter my viewpoint about the Band. I feel they were very good but simply not my cup of tea.

If I had to pick highlights from the guest stars, I’d select the terrific interplay between guitarists Robbie Robertson and Eric Clapton during “Further On Up the Road”. I also really liked the performance from Muddy Waters on his own “Mannish Boy”.

To my modest surprise, many of the best moments came from the Band’s own tunes. I knew many of these and never much cared for them.

However, the numbers worked well here, as tracks like “Up on Cripple Creek”, “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” seemed more alive than I imagined. A lot of this resulted from the tight playing.

I’d never realized what an excellent guitarist Robertson was. He provided crisp and stinging leads throughout the show, and his work added unexpected edge to the numbers. The entire group was solid, but Robertson stood out to me.

In addition, The Last Waltz displayed the Band about as well as one could imagine. Scorsese’s preparation paid off nicely, as he created a smooth and fluid presentation.

To his credit, the enterprise seemed seamless and effortless. There’s nothing showy about it, but Scorsese always kept the focus placed appropriately on the musicians and the songs. I rarely second-guessed his choices, and Scorsese managed to represent the performance and translate it solidly to the screen.

While most of the movie focused on the action from the stage, Scorsese varied the material via some interviews with the Band, and these offered some decent information. They didn’t provide a great level of insight, and some of the members didn’t come across especially well.

Robertson seems somewhat full of himself, while bassist Rick Danko and keyboardist Richard Manuel appeared like serious stoners. Still, the material helped spice up the presentation, and we got enough useful notes to make these clips worth a look.

A few of the performances came from material filmed after the final concert. Scorsese took the Band to a soundstage, where they did numbers like “Evangeline” with Emmylou Harris and “The Weight” with the Staples Singers.

They also did “Theme From the Last Waltz” in that venue. The transitions from the real live arena to the soundstage occurred neatly. They didn’t pretend to be from the same setting, which was a good choice, and I felt they blended well.

Ultimately, I still can’t choose The Last Waltz as one of my favorite concert films. I liked the music but not enough to allow it to supersede material from artists I prefer.

However, I can’t dispute that it offered a very well executed affair that consistently seemed engaging. It made the material come to life and it stands as one of the genre’s top efforts.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+ / Audio C+ / Bonus B+

The Last Waltz appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. We got a fine reproduction of the source via this Dolby Vision presentation.

Within the confines of the original photography, sharpness seemed solid. At times, the cameras went slightly out of focus, but obviously that related to the source. Otherwise, we find a pretty well-defined presentation.

Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no problems, and I noticed no signs of edge haloes. With a good layer of grain, I suspected no noise reduction, and print flaws failed to appear.

The movie featured a warm, golden scheme, and the disc replicated those tones well. The hues seemed vivid and vibrant throughout the film, with no signs of noise, bleeding or other issues. HDR gave the tones greater impact and oomph.

Black levels appeared dense and rich, while shadow detail came across clearly. Low-light scenes seemed appropriately heavy but not excessively dark. HDR brought added range and emphasis to whites and contrast. Overall, the image worked well.

I thought the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack became less consistent, as this circa 2001 remix went a little bonkers. This meant a lot of music and vocals came from the rear channels, and they manifested there in a distracting manner.

Indeed, the back channels took such prominence that I began to wonder if my system was out of whack. No – other audio cropped up in the appropriate forward channels, so this simply appeared to be a mixing choice to send a lot of material to the surrounds.

For some remixes, this can work, but for a concert like Waltz, it felt wrong and distracting. There also seemed to be little rhyme or reason for the over-active use of the back channels, as some songs stayed more “forward” than others.

As such, I thought the soundscape became a bit of a mess. This didn’t turn into a fatal flaw, but it turned the audio into a less enjoyable experience than it should – at least for me, since I found the surround usage to overwhelm.

At least audio quality seemed strong. Vocals appeared natural and distinct, as the performers always sounded clear and accurate.

All the various instruments sounded solid as well. Guitars rang and stung nicely, while drums were punchy and crisp. Bass response appeared good overall as well. Parts of this mix fared nicely, but the awkward soundfield turned into a problem.

Note that the Blu-ray came with movie’s original DTS-HD MA 2.0 surround track, and I thought that offered a vastly superior soundscape when compared to its 2001 counterpart.

For the 2.0 version, vocals remained largely centered where they belonged, and instruments cropped up in the appropriate locations. This felt like a much more natural presentation than the jacked-up 5.1 version.

While the 2.0 edition offered the better soundfield, audio quality took a hit, mainly because Criterion mastered the 1978 mix at a substantially lower level than its 2001 counterpart. I had to crank up my receiver’s volume substantially higher than usual to achieve the appropriate impact.

Nonetheless, audio quality was good when I balanced out the volume. The 5.1 track came with more range but not to an enormous degree. I thought the 2.0 felt a little anemic compared to the 5.1, but the superior soundfield made it my preferred mix.

How did the 4K UHD compare to the Blu-ray version? Both come with identical audio options.

On the other hand, the Dolby Vision 4K boasted a decent upgrade, as it showed superior definition, colors and general clarity. This didn’t turn into a massive step up, but I definitely thought the 4K topped the Blu-ray.

The Criterion set mixes old and new extras, and we find two separate audio commentaries. The first one features musician Robbie Robertson and director Martin Scorsese.

Both were recorded separately and the results were edited together. Robertson clearly watched and remarked upon the movie for his remarks, but it sounded like Scorsese’s parts resulted from the same interviews that provided his material in the disc’s documentary.

Although both contribute good material, Robertson dominates the commentary. He provides information about the genesis of the film project and gives us notes about all of the various guest performers who appeared during the show.

Essentially, he elaborates on what the Band wanted to do with the concert, and offers a little about their mindset at the time, though I would like to hear more about the dynamics between the players and how they reacted to the end of their era.

Scorsese tosses in some nice details about his influences when it comes to the use of music in movies and covers his efforts to appropriately document the concert, along with many of the problems he encountered. Overall, this is a pretty solid track that provides a consistently informative experience.

The second commentary combines a slew of participants for this edited track. We hear from Band members Levon Helm and Garth Hudson, journalist/Band friend Jay Cocks, journalist Greil Marcus, creative consultant Mardik Martin, executive producer Jonathan Taplin, associate producer Steven Prince, cameraman Michael Chapman, music producer John Simon, New York, New York producer Irwin Winkler, and performers Mavis Staples, Dr. John, and Ronnie Hawkins.

All of them were recorded separately except for Simon and Helm, who sat together. I really like this commentary, as it includes a wealth of information. From technical aspects of creating both the concert and the movie to Band history to musical interpretation to various anecdotes, it’s all here.

The piece moves briskly as it keeps me thoroughly entertained at virtually all times. Some folks don’t like edited commentaries, but naysayers should check out this one, as I find it hard to believe anyone could complain about such a terrific chat.

Revisiting The Last Waltz provides a 22-minute, 31-second documentary. It shows clips from the movie, some background materials like storyboards and conceptual art, and interview segments with Robbie Robertson and Martin Scorsese.

Overall, this is a good little documentary. In some ways, it seems a bit redundant after the Robertson/Scorsese commentary - especially since Scorsese’s material clearly comes from the same sessions - and the absence of other participants is somewhat odd.

However, it acts as a solid discussion of the movie and the concert. It covers the project from conception through completion and stands as a nice synopsis of the process. While not a definitive document, “Revisiting” covers the movie well.

Next we find Outtake: Jam Session 2. This informal performance features three-fifths of the Band (Robertson, Helm and Hudson) plus Eric Clapton, Paul Butterfield, Dr. John, Carl Radle, Ringo Starr, Stephen Stills, Ronnie Wood and Neil Young.

The jam runs for 12 minutes, 15 seconds and allegedly offers the “only archival footage available from The Last Waltz.” That seems odd, considering all of the footage shot, but anyway you look at it, it’s all we find on the disc.

I’ve never been a fan of jam sessions, and this one does nothing to change my mind, as it’s rambling and pointless. Only die-hards will enjoy it, but I admit I’m glad it made the disc, as it’s better to find too much material than too little.

Note that the last few minutes of the jam offer no visuals. According to a text screen that appears toward the end, the cameras began to overheat from excessive use, so they were shut down as the song progressed.

After a trailer and a TV spot, we go to materials new to the Criterion disc. Martin Scorsese and David Fear offers a November 2021 chat between the director and critic Fear.

This piece runs 31 minutes, 31 seconds and covers Scorsese’s thoughts about the Band and their music, feelings about the concert film genre and his work on Waltz. Some of the musing about music feels solipsistic, but we get some good notes about Waltz and music movies.

Martin Scorsese and Robbie Robertson, 1978 lasts 15 minutes, three seconds and offers exactly what the title implies. We find a segment from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s April 14, 1978 episode of 90 Minutes Live with the director and the musician.

This segment offers some basics about the concert and the film production. Given all the prior time this disc spends with Scorsese and Robertson, we don’t find much new content, but I like the perspective of 1978 as well as the chance to see Robertson and Scorsese together.

Finally, the package concludes with a booklet that mixes credits, art and an essay from critic Amanda Petrusich. It winds up matters on a decent note.

While I cannot say I agree that The Last Waltz stands as the greatest concert film ever made, I also cannot deny that it provides a fine piece of work. Waltz provides an elegant and visually compelling film. The 4K UHD boasts strong visuals and a good collection of bonus materials, but audio becomes inconsistent. Despite my qualms with some aspects of the 5.1 remix, the original 2.0 track works fine and allows this to become the best version of the film on the market.

To rate this film, visit the DVD review of THE LAST WALTZ

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main