|The Band in Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz (1978).|
A couple of years ago, I was toying with the idea of writing a book called The Weight. It was about Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz (1978), his concert documentary about The Band's farewell Thanksgiving concert on November 25, 1976 at the Winterland in San Francisco. My thought was to send a proposal and a sample chapter to the British Film Institute for their annual chapbook publications on key films. Having just done a CBC Radio documentary on The Band's debut album, Music From Big Pink (1968), I was primed to delve into the air of melancholy that lay beneath the spirit of celebration that Scorsese caught while shooting that extraordinary concert. But I decided to abandon the project when there didn't seem to be any interest from publishers. However, I came across some of the notes I'd written in preparation for The Weight which, upon re-reading them, looked apt for a posting. – Kevin Courrier
"All of these moments in the film, and there are many more, have a way of deepening with time, where time's affliction provides bolder hindsight. But the deeper melancholy, for me, comes with a performance of 'The Weight,' the parable that bonded people to The Band back in 1968. The song is about a search for community, a quest for comfort, a place to find comradeship and to set down roots, to lessen the burden of what the singer is carrying, but with no guarantee of being relieved of it. The key to this song is that there are many singers present in the performance – not just one – just as there is a cast of characters in 'The Weight' who deepen the riddle. The burden of the story it tells is carried by many and refused by all.
"It's that fear of impending retreat that inhabits The Last Waltz, whose opening credits feature a young couple performing a waltz, their wedding ritual, while the crowd (after a five hour concert) refuses to let The Band go home. 'You're still here?' Robbie Robertson asks the audience at the end of the concert (but near the beginning of the movie), looking surprised to find anybody out there after the group had spent every ounce of all they had to give. It was simple. The audience just couldn't let go of what they already saw starting to pass. So the group gave them Marvin Gaye's 'Don't Do It,' a plea as hard and as soulful as John Lennon had once delivered in 'Don't Let Me Down,' just when The Beatles were about to pass into history. 'Don'tcha break my heart,' Levon cries out before the group answers, with a collective smile, 'My biggest mistake was lovin' you too much.' Then, with a wave, they were gone."