“This film should be played loud!” It’s a cliché now, a concert-movie disclaimer that’s become the equivalent of that hippie-dippy tagline from those Freedom Rock compilation ads (“Well, turn it up, maaaaan.”) But in the late Seventies, when it first flashed onscreen in all white font against a stark black background before the credits of The Last Waltz, you knew it meant business. Keep moving that volume knob clockwise, folks. Let the needle swing into the red.
And then we begin at the end, with the weary members of the Band shuffling onstage to hoarse cheers. “You’re still here, huh?” asks guitarist Robbie Robertson. “We’re gonna do one more song, and that’s it.” Drummer Levon Helm stretches; bassist Rick Danko smokes a cigarette and wishes everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. They’ve been at this five or more hours now, poring through their back catalog and backing every celebrity guest along