"This Film Should Be Played Loud!" - The Band's Last Waltz 40 Years On

40 years ago today, November 25th 1976, was Thanksgiving Day and The Band played its last "farewell concert appearance" and one of the greatest gigs of all time.

If you were one of the 5,000 in the audience at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on that day, you would be served a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner, you would enjoy some ballroom dancing with the music of the Berkeley Promenade Orchestra, and a few poetry readings given by the likes of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Diane Di Prima, among many others.

At 9pm The Band started its concert and, directed by its producer
John Simon, magnificently played a mind-boggling amount of epic tunes, covering about their whole catalogue and the whole palette of modern rock music at that time - from Tin Pan Alley pop to R&B via blues and early rock and roll - intermittently joined on stage by friends such as Bob Dylan (of course), Neil Young, Dr John, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr & Ronnie Wood, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, and Eric Clapton, to name a few. If you spare 4 hours and 20 minutes of your time, you can view the whole thing integrally on YouTube (no kidding: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2yW372qWH8).

To make it if possible even grander,
Robbie Robertson recruited Martin Scorsese to record the whole concert on 16mm film, thanks to the intercession of Jonathan Taplin, who was The Band’s tour manager between 1969 and 1972, and later produced Scorsese’s Mean Streets in 1973. Eventually, under Scorsese’s direction, the film grew into a full-scale production with seven 35mm cameras operated, among the others, by cinematographers such as László Kovács (Easy Rider), Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), and his fellow Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull). Add to the picture the skillful work of production designer Boris Leven (West Side Story, The Sound of Music), who took care of stage and lighting design, and the set from San Francisco Opera’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata, that was rented as a backdrop for the stage.   

The film-documentary, featuring concert performances, intermittent song renditions shot on a studio soundstage, and interviews by Scorsese with members of the Band, was released in April 1978, few days after the
triple-LP soundtrack recording, produced by Simon and Rob Fraboni, was issued.

 Thanksgiving has had its own soundtrack for 40 years.