Twenty-four years after its theatrical release, The Last Waltz is finally being released on DVD (with newly spiffed-up sound and visuals, natch). Martin Scorsese’s documentary about The Band’s star-studded 1976 farewell concert at San Francisco’s Winterland has been hailed as perhaps the best rock film ever made—an assessment The Band’s 57-year-old majordomo Robbie Robertson (who personally supervised the digital remastering of the original stereo sound) wouldn’t argue with. — Tom Sinclair
— Do you think today’s kids, weaned on teen pop and rap-metal, will relate to the music in The Last Waltz?
I think this will show younger generations who weren’t around then what a pivotal time this was. These people — Bob Dylan and Neil Young and Muddy Waters and Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell — made musical statements that just aren’t really happening in this day and age. This was one of those events that should be cherished and presented in the best way possible so younger people can say, ”Wow. Look where all this s — – comes from.”
When I was remixing the sound into 5.1 surround sound, they had this thing on the mixing stage where you could contrast the original sound with what it’s like now. And the difference is so drastic, let me tell you. It’s overwhelmingly better. I mean, you are in it, you are there, it just wraps around you.
— How did you originally decide to approach Martin Scorsese about filming The Last Waltz?
Once this farewell concert began taking shape, I started to think of all the directors who had some sort of special connection to music. The first name that I wrote down was Martin Scorsese. There was something that I sensed in Scorsese’s work that told me he had a particular passion for [music] and that he would be right. When I met with him and told him about it, I probably couldn’t have picked a worse time—he was in the middle of shooting a movie. But he said, ”This sounds amazing. What am I gonna do? I have to do this.”
— Are there extra performances on the DVD that weren’t in the original movie?
We include 10 minutes of a jam from the end of the show that no one has ever seen. Like any movie, [Waltz] was shortened and tightened up, so there were a lot of outtakes. Unfortunately, that footage is missing; no one’s been able to find it. I’d love to have had that extra stuff.
— You’ve been somewhat estranged from the two surviving members of the band [Garth Hudson and Levon Helm] in recent years. Do you know how they feel about the rerelease?
I spoke with Garth about three weeks ago. I don’t have any bitterness, any anger or problems with them. I wish Levon and Garth all the best in the world. I love them dearly and cherish all the wonderful musical experiences we had together.
— In 25 words or less, can you explain what the heck ”The Weight” is about?
In that song I was somewhat influenced by the work of [director] Luis Bunuel. He made films about the impossibility of pure goodness in human nature, the impossibility of saintliness. I was fascinated by his work, and I would watch his movies and think, There’s humor in this, and truth as well. People want to be good, but they do something bad — and they don’t want to do something bad — because human nature is made up of this balance in our character….
Well…I sat down to write a song, and that’s all I could think of at the time. I would have thought of something better if I could have.