The Reverence of Film: The Last Waltz

by

The Band

The Band’s Last Performance
We mentioned this in class this evening.

The Last Waltz was a concert by the rock group, “The Band”, held Thanksgiving Day 1976, at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom. It was billed as a “farewell” concert after 16 years of touring. The Band was joined by artists including Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Muddy Waters and Neil Young.

The Band made this last performance years before digital video. This whole concert was filmed in 35mm movie format with professional motion picture equipment. The cameras were not designed for continuous running. There were scores of technical problems. Despite the problems, the event was filmed as it happened with no pausing or retakes. It was released as a feature film by Martin Scorsese in 1978.

This was an amazing achievement considering the limitations of the equipment and the expense of the medium. The specialness of this shows not only in how the medium rendered the event, but in the reverence shown by everybody in its filming. This was a special and rare recording and everybody knew it. That specialness would not exist in digital media where all kinds of events can be economically and casually recorded. It is just not the same medium. I really recommend renting the movie, The Last Waltz. If you do, pause to reflect how different digital and analog photographic media really are and how this affects the final product we are watching.

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