Smile Politely

The Last Waltz roundtable

When Gillian told me we were going to the Art to see The Last Waltz last Friday night, I assumed I was in for a boring evening of dance-related arthouse cinema. I was soon pleasantly surprised to learn that The Last Waltz is a concert film of The Band’s last live performance, directed by Martin Scorsese (Scorsese also makes several entertaining appearances in the film). Van Morrison (bloated edition, right) and a who’s-who of ’70s folk rock make cameo appearances.

If you are as ignorant of this film as I recently was, check out the trailer below to get caught up to speed:

It was also my first visit to the Art Theater since Sanford Hess took over operations the first of the year. Hess himself normally introduces the films, apparently, but for this occasion he ceded control to a member of the audience (I didn’t catch her name, sorry) who was clearly a fan of the film, and who shared a couple of interesting anecdotes of the DVD-extras variety. The film was a good time from beginning to end, as was the overall Art experience. We had so much fun that we decided to do a little online roundtable discussion so that everyone could share their thoughts. Thanks to Emma, Zack and Gillian for sharing. — Joel Gillespie


Who’s your favorite member of The Band, and which was your favorite song of the film?

Gillian Gabriel: I’m not really too familiar with The Band, but just based on this movie and the “Best of” album that we have, I think if I had to choose a member to hang out with for an afternoon, it would also be Levon Helm. He’s kind of mysterious and sexy in a grizzled way and I think he would have the best stories to tell. Maybe he could give me drum lessons.

There were lots of great songs in the film, notably “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which Jerry Garcia also performed quite a bit on his solo stints, Neil Young’s “Helpless”, Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” (a song that will never be fully appreciated due to its association with Rod Stewart) and the group at large singing “I Shall Be Released” as the last song. However, the song that has been most resonating with me several days after the fact is “Makes No DIfference” which was sang by bassist Rick Danko, and harmonized beautifully by my boyfriend, Levon Helm.

Emma Reaux: Being a child of “my parents’ generation” — growing up listening to The Doors, The Who, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Janis Joplin, Neil Young, CCR, etc with my folks, my first reaction to hearing about this film at the Art was “Hell yes, I LOVE THE BAND!!” However, I must embarrassingly admit that while I’ve heard of The Band, it wasn’t until I saw this film that I realized they were the ones who sang the songs that my dad made me listen to on the Oldies radio station. Therefore, I have no idea what their names are, even though they were on the screen at the beginning of the film. I really enjoyed how they focussed on each member, and their personalities really came through. From the film alone, I would say my favorite is “the crazy one” (Richard Manuel, right) that seemed to talk total creepy nonsense the whole time. He played piano, I believe? My favorite song was “The Weight,” especially with the 25 backup singers in the audience.

Zack Grant: It is difficult for me to pin down my favorite member of the Band. However, let’s just say this: based on pure entertainment value from the interview sections, Richard Manuel by far. As sad as it is to realize that his hilarious inebriation throughout these sections of the film was the outward manifestation of dark internal issues that eventually led to his suicide in 1986, it is also reassuring that he lived in the moment and fully appreciated the lifestyle that he was living. After all, he just wanted to “break even” in the end.

I love Levon Helm’s voice and craft, but Richard Danko is probably the member of the Band I can relate most to, especially from a musicians standpoint, which leads me into the next part of this question: My favorite song. It wasn’t always this, but I have to agree with Gillian in the resounding residuals that a song like “It Makes No Difference” leaves with you. Not only is this one of the most amazingly abundant harmony driven rock ballad songs in the history of the world, but the anguish and heartache that issues from Danko’s voice is enough to bring anyone right there in close to the way he’s feeling, and the way that everyone feels in moments like that. It is a ubiquitous torch song that will never lose its metaphysical appeal.


What was the last movie you’d seen at the Art before this one?

Gillian: A Single Man, a couple of weeks ago, with Emma.

Emma: I saw A Single Man at the Art with Gillian. Before that, I saw Moon last summer, and Slumdog Millionaire last winter, among others.

Zack: The last movie I saw at the Art theatre was A Simple Man. Loved it, though it left me with Coen brothers anti-climax. Though, isn’t that what life is full of?

Joel: Man on Wire in summer 2008.


How would you describe the overall vibe of the theater for this film?

Joel: It was really positive and added a lot to the film. I really enjoyed the introduction to the film from a fellow audience member. I must admit I was skeptical about paying $6.50 to see a film that I could rent and watch at home, but the communal aspect was totally worth it for me.

Gillian: As far as The Last Waltz specifically, I loved seeing it in the theater. I like “concert movies” but when I watch them at home, I tend to put them in and focus on other things, like cleaning or making crafts or daydreaming. Seeing it in the theater allowed the music to be at the forefront, and I came away with a whole new appreciation of The Band. I loved the sing-alongs in the theater, and how people yelled things at the screen. Everyone was talking to their friends throughout, but they kept their voices low, and no one got shushed. Again, it was a completely different movie-watching environment than the normal experience. Like Joel mentioned, the community aspect is what made it great. People were there to laugh and have a good time.

I think it is awesome that the Art showed this movie, and that they have been showing new classics in general. My friends went to see Donnie Darko there last weekend, and I was jealous that I didn’t get to go. I would be super jazzed if they would continue doing these kinds of things, showing movies that mean a lot to our generation collectively. May I put in a plea for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure?

Emma: In general, I noticed prices are a little higher under new ownership, which made me feel a little less of a neighborhoody vibe. However, this particular night I walked over to the theatre with y’all from my apartment and we sat right down and the show got started — that was really heart warming. Add the “2 minute” schpiel in the beginning where the random woman told a story about Scorcese’s editing and Neil Young’s coke nose, the 30-part harmonizing during “The Weight,” and the booing and hissing at Joni Mitchell, and it felt like an all-out neighborhood/local love fest. It really was a community in there, with everyone genuinely enjoying the good times. I found the couple in front of me particularly cute — they definitely grew up in that era, and here we are, young snot-nosed 20-and-30-somethings singing along to the songs. I left that theatre feeling whole and warm and happy and very excited to experience more nights like that at the Art.

Zack: I really like the Art theatre. It makes me feel like I am supporting a type of business that has long been lost from the Main Streets of towns all over the country. Most movie theaters are carbon copies of the mold born out of the strip mall backdrops they reside in. This theater feels nothing like that, and I hope it continues to survive.

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