'Last' Rites

They shall be re-released: Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson in 'The Last Waltz'

They shall be re-released: Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson in 'The Last Waltz'

With all the powder that's said to have been tooted at the Band's 1976 "farewell" show, filmed by Martin Scorsese in his goodfella-against-the-helicopters period, you could make a line from Oak Street Cinema all the way to the mayor's office. Better, perhaps, to line up outside what they rightly call the "Twin Cities' essential neighborhood movie house" to see Scorsese's The Last Waltz, screening for a week with the Dylan doc Don't Look Back on a double bill that has less to do with pointing to No Direction Home than with pondering the long goodbye. "We're gonna do one more song and that's it," says Band-leader Robbie Robertson, ambivalently introducing the gig's final number ("My biggest mistake/Was lovin' you too much") at the start of the movie. (No wonder it took the filmmakers more than 16 months to finish editing.)

Three years ago, apropos of the last time Waltz took a spin at the Oak Street, Kate Sullivan wrote that the movie is "so beautifully shot by Martin Scorsese that it makes you wish he had been filming a better band." I guess I agree. Guest appearances by Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Emmylou Harris, and Van Morrison, performing their own songs with backup from Robertson and Co., help make the soundtrack more vibrant, certainly, but they help even more to characterize this as the end not of a band, but an era. Everyone on both sides of the camera seems to see the '80s coming like a huge dope bust, like the Imperial Destroyer at the beginning of Star Wars; by '86, a few of them--like Scorsese and Robertson, who collaborated on the aptly named Color of Money--would be doing good work for new bosses.

"They say everything can be replaced," Dylan sings in "I Shall Be Released." Who knows? Maybe your DVD looks and sounds better to you than the print that'll be at Oak Street. But rock concerts are still attended by groups of strangers flicking their Bics, and that's how we should see The Last Waltz--an elegiac celebration, as Robertson puts it, of a "goddamn impossible way of life," of the "beginning of the beginning of the end of the beginning."