Saturday, September 26, 2020

In The Age Of The Robber Barons-The Gilded Age-The Film Adaptation Of Henry James’ “The Golden Bowl” (2002)-A Film Review

In The Age Of The Robber Barons-The Gilded Age-The Film Adaptation Of Henry James’ “The Golden Bowl” (2002)-A Film Review


DVD Review

By Leslie Dumont
The Golden Bowl, starring Kate Berkendale, Uma Thirman, Nick Nolte, Jeremy Northam, based on the novel by Henry James, produced by the famous team of Merchant and Ivory, 2000  
Seth Garth who has had a pretty good handle on literary figures like F. Scott Fitzgerald is always fond of using an expression credited to Fitzgerald to the effect that the rich, by this he meant the very rich and in his day rich with a pedigree, and if not a pedigree then some fake papers to that effect and not some upstart noveau riche white trash who made their dough in the garbage business. Now everybody knows another expression if not the author’s name from Anatole France that the rich and poor most democratically, most equally cannot sleep under that proverbial bridge and must adhere to the law-although the latter proposition has taken a serious beating since his day. Put together the Fitzgerald proposition and France’s grind them through the full-blown pen of American expatriate Henry James before that became seriously fashionable after the debacles of World War I when all that pre-war civilization business went bust, put old Henry’s ennobled hierarchy in the shade and you have something like a fairly decent tale of life among the very rich in the film adaptation of his The Golden Bowl.
Yes, of course the golden bowl that will find various places of refuge before the film is done is something of a metaphor for frail humanity, for the imperfections of even a high society, maybe especially a high society life. That is not what I want to dwell on but rather the cracks at the edges of high society that James details in his book and which is only partially expressed through the less cumbersome medium of film. The interior monologues, the psychological motivations of the characters which made James, whose brother William after all was as leading psychologist in his day, something of a break-through author heading toward what we now call literary modernism. No question in the post-Freudian and post-Gothic novel times this James novelistic approach is tough reading and although he has never totally fallen out of disfavor his star has diminished with time. The combined mighty Merchant-Ivory production team along with writer Ruth Prawer Jhavala has made a valiant effort to bring this tough look at high Victorian marriage and its temptations to the fore.     
Here is the play, an expression for a summary of the film that Josh Breslin first uttered to me back when we were lovers and working here before I left for greener professional pastures at his urging, who later told me that it was not really his expression but Sam Lowell’s which tells a lot about Sam’s power over the writing staff at this publication.
Until you remember that it was the late Peter Paul Markin that gave the expression to Sam but enough of this internal literary history and on to the plot line. Couple number one poor but drop- dead beautiful Charlotte played by then rising actor Uma Thurman had a serious affair with a poor but drop- dead beautiful Italian prince of uncertain lineage, Amerigo, played by Jeremy Northam but that affair due to their limited resources and big appetites for luxurious and idle living can go nowhere. Can go nowhere mainly because he is engaged to the daughter, Maggie played by Kate Beckinsale, of a very wealth American robber baron, Adam Verver played by miscast Nick Nolte. Charlotte by the way a girlhood friend of Maggie’s although that did not stand in the way of beating her friend’s time with her intended. And had not qualm number one about the matter. These four characters drive the film aided by a busybody couple who act as foils for various shifts in the drama.    
Rich overlays poor and our Prince marries Maggie and has a son with her after dumping Charlotte like a hot potato when the wedding bells ring and his life take a big swing upward. Charlotte meanwhile still is carrying the torch for the Prince and takes dead aim at him when she goes to London to visit her old friend Maggie several years later. She tries might and main to get her prince but gets nowhere while she is unmarried. Maggie worried about her father who seems to have an art collection hunger worthy of many a benighted robber baron brings Charlotte and dad into contact and from there Adam falls for poor as a church mouse Charlotte and marries her. Somehow having everybody in close contact shifts the playing field as Maggie draws what today would seem incestuously close to her father leaving the field wide open for Charlotte and Amerigo to have a fling, or what turns out to be a fling once Maggie and Papa become wise to what is going on between this adulterous pair.  
Of course in high society nobody wants to offend anybody by actually saying what they mean or what concerns them so many minutes are used to convey what takes many pages to convey in the book about the internal monologues each party goes through to NOT tell what he or she is feeling. This kind of thing can only go on so long and finally as Maggie gets more and proof culminating with the golden bowl caper of what was what between the pair the tension is resolved when Amerigo dumps Charlotte for Maggie and Adam forces Charlotte to go back to America so he can play generous former robber baron with his treasured art collection readied for a museum. Yes, Fitzgerald once again had it right the very rich are different from you and me-and not necessarily for the better. 

Everybody Loves A Con-Except When They Are The Conned-When At First You Practice To Deceive, Part II-Giuseppe Tonatore’s “The Best Offer” (2013)-A Film Review

Everybody Loves A Con-Except When They Are The Conned-When At First You Practice To Deceive, Part II-Giuseppe Tonatore’s “The Best Offer” (2013)-A Film Review



DVD Review
By Laura Perkins
The Best Offer, starring Geoffrey Rush, Donald Sutherland, Jim Sturgess, Sylvia Hoeks, directed by Giuseppe Tonatorem 2013
Greg Green who has been the site manager of the on-line edition of this publication since 2017 has as part of his new regime, as a part of a policy that he had initiated when he was chief editor at American Film Gazette for many years encouraged his writers to let the reader into some of the internal workings of on-line publication. I have taken him up on that proposition as a matter of completeness since I believe that this review of 2013’s The Best Offer is in kindred spirit to another recently reviewed film in this space, 1991’s Deceived.  In that review I mentioned, based on my own personal experience, that every woman stands in unfocused fear and trepidation that the man she starts a serious relationship is for real, is not a con artist, a holy goof psycho con artist in that film and just an ordinary one in my case. Then this film came along which under ordinary circumstances would go to Seth Garth but which Greg switched up after seeing what I had written about in Deceived. (Seth the obvious choice because he has been the one over the years who has used the expression “everybody loves a con except the one being conned” the most and done a number of reviews where the con was central to the action of the film like in The Sting back in the 1970s.)
What intrigued Greg about my prior review was that I took a very strong stand that this idea related especially to women and wondered how I would deal with a case where as in The Best Offer a man was the subject of the con, a non-psycho con but a con nevertheless. (Greg apparently missed my note that men could tell their own takes on this proposition, but I was dealing with women.) Here is how the con worked, a beautiful con according to Sam Lowell who watched it with me and saw where the thing was heading long before I caught on to the “grift” (a Sam expression from corner boy days as a youth so he says). Virgil Oldman, played by sad-faced Geoffrey Rush, was a high -end top auctioneer for a major auction house who also had via his companion in crime, Billy played by now ancient Donald Sutherland, accumulated a gallery full of the best the art world had to offer in female portraits going back to at least the Renaissance. Their own scam was to downgrade the artist who painted the thing and grab a masterpiece for cheap money. Nice.
This accumulation of female portraits locked away from prying eyes and who knows what else had much to do with Virgil’s finicky ways and fear of women. That fear, subtly using that unspecified origin fear  is what sets the whole con up once he got a strange commission to auction off a valuable villa full of high-end paintings and fine furniture. The strange commission from a young woman who allegedly suffered from agoraphobia in the extreme as she led him on a merry chase before they finally met. The key here is Virgil’s kinship with a fellow odd-ball, a fellow person uncomfortable with dealing with people. Her turning out to be drop-dead beautiful was an add-on although the homely as sin Virgil should have at least had a few defenses up. In any case he got lured in little by little helped by the machinations of a master tinkerer, Robert, played by Jim Sturgess, who also was giving lovelorn Virgil advise on how to woe this young woman who has sparked his interest. Finally Virgil woos the young woman, Claire, played by fetching and fragile Sylvia Hoeks, who blossomed under his tutelage. A number of incidents, including a brutal street robbery by thugs near the villa bring Claire out into the world. Virgil will take his credits for her resurrection, including a few romps in the hay. And she will not object.                
Once Virgil felt that Claire felt comfortable in his high-end digs after bringing her along from her cocoon and a few nights of high-end love-making he brought her into his inner sanctum-the room full of female portraits which had previously sustained him. From there it was all downhill as Virgil decided to retire and devote himself to Claire and her well-being. One day he came home to put another painting in his collection room. Bingo-no paintings except one that Billy painted, you remember Billy who helped Virgil with their own con scheme. A painting allegedly of Claire’s mother which was in her possession as she and Virgil were going round and round. Shocked, Virgil finally realized that he has been set up by a cabal led by Billy assisted by Robert and Claire and a few incidental characters. That sends him to a mental institution and later to Prague where he foolishly expected the perfidious Claire to show up since she expressed an interest in a certain place in that town. A beautiful con according to Sam but to me just an extension of my idea about every woman that now applies to every man-he must have a deep-seeded dread that the woman he is dealing with is not real, is a con artist-or worse.    


Those Daring Young Men In Their Flying Machines-In Honor Of Icarus’s Progeny- With Cary Grant And Jean Arthur’s “Only Angels Have Wings” (1939) In Mind

Those Daring Young Men In Their Flying Machines-In Honor Of Icarus’s Progeny- With Cary Grant And Jean Arthur’s “Only Angels Have Wings” (1939) In Mind 



By Lance Lawrence
[Thanks to reader Lanny Lake who sent us the message that we had inadvertently cut the last few paragraphs from the original publication leaving her wondering what happened to Johnny Cielo after he left Barranca. This missing piece is more important now since young writer Will Bradley has unearthed some interesting details about Johnny which will raise some eyebrows-Watch for the commentary coming soon. Greg Green-site manager]   

[I am only the recorder, the light-touch editor on this piece, since these are basically the recollections of Billy Bartlett, a guy I met in a bar in Miami while having a couple after having a tough day tracing down some leads on a story about the below the radar scene in Palm Beach after the Pulitzer dust-up blew over. The person I was supposed to interview did a “dixie” on me which is not all that unusual in the business but gives the why of why I was having a couple (many three, okay) when Billy approached when he noticed I was writing some notes, asked if I was a writer, I answered journalist and then he hit me with the question-“buy me a drink”-also not unusual in the profession when everybody not connected to the damn thing thinks everybody from cub reporters to big byline guys and gals have an endless expense account.
Billy’s “hook,” his experienced hook, was to tell me about a guy, about Johnny Cielo, who I had never heard of before and how he was one of the real aces of the early aviation industry, the barn-stormer end when the guys, and it was mainly guys despite Amelia Earhart and Sally Southern, ready did fly by the seat of their pants. Took awful chances to fight for Icarus’s honor and would rather die in the sky that stay earthbound-simple. That homage to Johnny, whom Billy had met as a young man in the 1950s when he was hitch-hiking to the Florida Keys and wound up in Jack’s in Key West where Johnny hung his hat, was just the icing on the cake for the real hook which was that Johnny, for dough as always with these mercenary fly-boys, had met his end in the deep blue Caribbean seas running  guns or something for Fidel and his guys in the hills of Cuba.   
No question when Billy flamed that story he had my attention, especially after those four drinks and that “dixie” stand-up I had visions of a big sassy story which I felt certain that my editor, Greg Green, would spring for. Just for grins Billy told me that Johnny had bedded one Rita Hayworth the big Hollywood hot flash to guys before she went over to Morocco and the Aga Khan. I was all ears after that since I remember my father told me that his father had had a Rita Hayworth pin-up in his locker when he was in the service during World War II. He had showed me a photograph of her and I could see what he, what my grandfather, was all itchy about every time he mentioned her name. So here it is. L.L.]
*********
A tear comes to my eyes every time I hear the name Johnny Cielo, yes, Johnny, one of Icarus’s latter- day sons who was a pioneer in aviation when that was tricky business-when flying by the seat of your pants really was something more than a quaint saying. (By the way for passport trouble purposes, for cons and scams, for ducking the law, John Law he called them Johnny Cielo had many aliases; Johnny Too Bad, Johnny Blade, Johnny Blaze, Blaze Johnson, Johnny Icarus, Izzy Johns and who knows how many other those are just the ones I remember but I will use his real name, assuming that it is for my purposes here). Yes, Johnny was a piece of work, was somebody who gave as good as he got and who had that flight dream from very early on, from the first day he heard about Wilbur and Orville Wright and their successors. Johnny though was strictly a fly boy adventurer, although he could have had a piece of Alleghany Airlines and lived on easy street for the rest of his life. Could have been flying Piper Clubs for the country club rubes to gawk over. But our Johnny was not built that way, didn’t want to become an extended cycle repair shop guy, didn’t have Howard Hughes’ overweening desire to own it all, whatever “it” was for the moment.       
Some people, even people knowledgeable about the history of aviation in America, have claimed they never heard of Johnny Cielo until you mention the Barranca air service set-up. Then they are all ears-not so much about the aviation part, the desperate flights to get the mail out, to get stuff delivered to impossible places, but about Johnny’s red-hot affair with film siren of the 1930s and 1940s Rita Hayworth. Yeah, there was plenty of truth to his exploits with the females, with high class dames like Rita back then. Rita who was every military guy’s favorite pin-up and if not then second. Johnny led Rita a merry chase, had her abandoning that very promising and lucrative Hollywood career to follow him to the wilds of Barranca down in Central America and then ditched her leaving her no choice but to grab the next best thing (this before the Aga Khan took his run at her and snagged her for a while-even “a while” most guy’s idea of heaven). Left Rita for some vaudeville tramp down on her uppers, somebody who couldn’t even stand in the same room as Rita but Johnny was funny that way-would stay with one woman just so long and that not long. Told them straight out his fly-boy life was it and he did not expect a woman, wouldn’t ask a woman to follow him where he was going. And he was right, just ask Rita who did and got not even a by your leave.   
Maybe it is better to begin at the beginning, or at least how Johnny got down on his own uppers so bad he had to take a shot a running a fool’s errant airline down in sunny Banana Republic Barranca. Johnny got deep into running dope, you know, marijuana, opium stuff like that way before most people even know what the hell illegal drugs were about from sunny Mexico up north. Did it for a few years, made a ton of money and proceeded to blow it on dames, various experimental airplane projects and hand-outs to every drifter he ran across. Then one day an agent for whatever cartel he was working for at the time, such things are murky and best left murky told him he was through, that they had some new boy, their boy who would run the merchandise.
Johnny thereafter needed work, needed it bad to keep up with the fresh but expensive Rita. Nothing doing around America for a guy whose last job was a dope smuggler so he headed south to Central America when his old friend and comrade Letts Fagan said he had a deal for him if he came fast. The deal was a secured route for a mail and express delivery for everything south of Mexico to what the hell Antarctica if he wanted to go that far if they could set up the route through some pretty tough terrain in the days when propeller was king and planes still wobbly in inclement weather. Heading out he told Rita he was going, he didn’t expect her to follow, wouldn’t ask her to but can you believe she said “let’s go” and as a sign of her own seriousness she was ready the next day to travel-a world record maybe for a woman with a big wardrobe and plenty of luggage to pull off. Johnny was impressed-and pleased.      
Things started out pretty well for Johnny and Rita and Johnny and his new airline. Looked like he would meet all the deadlines imposed by the contract and by his own daring. Pulled a few rabbits out of the hat to get through a bunch of horrible weather to deliver whatever there was to deliver-typical Johnny Cielo magic. Then the roof caved in, or rather that tramp from some northward-bound tramp steamer trampled into town looking for some sweet sugar daddy- or a Johnny kind of guy. She wasn’t choosey especially when she found out that Johnny was carrying Rita in tow. Two minutes after she saw him she had him in a backroom at Letts’ restaurant doing whatever she wanted, whatever he wanted. (We are all adults and know what was what but when some guy, some Johnny latter-day devotee wrote up his biography the guy left the hard sexual description part out, just like they were doing in the films in those days but you know as well as I do, and I know, because before the end Johnny told me, it was oral sex, a blow job, said she was good at that, Rita too, but you had to coax Rita and not the tramp.)
Okay even tramps have names, as if it mattered to Johnny or any other guy when a woman leads him to some backroom, so hers was Jean, Jean Smith I think Johnny said she called herself. Like I said Johnny had a fistful of aliases, so she probably did too. She was from nowhere, had done nothing but was something new and shiny for Johnny and that was that. Of course two dames, a glamour gal and a tramp or any combination thereof, working the same guy in the small blistered and balmy town are not going to make anything work in the end. That was when Rita blew town, went back to Hollywood to be knocked off by the Aga Khan for a while until she got bored. (The funny thing and even that biography guy didn’t know about the situation until I sent him a letter and he looked the stuff up after Rita blew that Moslem prince off and went back-where else Hollywood not Brooklyn or wherever she was from she and Johnny went under the sheets again for a while until she blew him off-nice trick. Johnny always spoke highly of his sassy redhead after that though-always had that glean in his eye when he mentioned her name. 
The tramp won round one. A big win but Johnny was all business for a while trying to make the nut with that fucking two-bit contract that must have been written up by a Wall Street lawyer it had so many escape clauses for the owners. Johnny had by his own reckoning, a half dozen ex-World War I planes of no repute, or something like that to get the mail and goods over the hump. Tough going, very tough as he lost a few guys who like him would rather die than not fly so they took risks, big risks, just for the hell of it. And nobody, Johnny made sure of that, mourned out loud about the dead guy, grabbed his smack sack possessions and divvied them up so no moony stuff. After one guy got, a guy who was supposed to buy this Jean a steak when he tried to make a play for her behind Johnny’s back, to sit with the angels, that what they called it she sniffled up and Johnny told her to shut up or follow Rita (Johnny could be cutting). Here’s the real deal Johnny part though-five minutes after the guy flamed out Johnny was a sky pilot taking the undelivered load over the hump and back in some kind of hurricane. (That “hump” not the Burma World War II hump that almost broke the backs of English and American pilots but through Condor Pass the next country over from Barranca.)   
Of course knowing Johnny like I did it came as no surprise that things didn’t work out in Barranca, he couldn’t get Letts’ operation going by that freaking Wall Street deadline and he had to skip town owning everybody and their brother and sister dough-including a ton to Letts who swore if Johnny Too Bad, that was the alias he was using down there apparently and not a bad idea with the riff-raff that went through that place, cutthroats, grifters, midnight stabbers, and the like the one time I went through there in a homage to the places Johnny set down on after I found out he had passed away. Naturally the tramp, that Jean whatever her sexual attractions and practices, once Johnny had no dough went on to the next best thing-whatever male was walking with dough in his pockets. As for Johnny he went free-lancing for a few years staying away from any spots where he owed dough. Picked up a few floozies and left them and headed for Key West where I met him in Jack’s, the hangout for guys like Hemingway and Giles, women like Selma Johns and Loretta Oldfield if you remember all those names.
That is about it except to grab the end, grab how Johnny fell down. Somehow about 1957, early in the year a guy approached  Johnny, a guy who called himself Colonel Fiero, something like that, who claimed to have been on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War (as if Johnny gave a fuck what a guy’s credentials were as long as the proposition made sense, it involved flying, the more dangerous the better and the dough was big and in cash) who wanted Johnny to fly from some point in Mexico to the Sierra Madres in Cuba. To fly to Fidel and his band of rural fighters who needed arms and supplies. I never did get the place in Mexico, Johnny wouldn’t say even to me and I don’t know how many flights in and out Johnny made. Probably a guy like Johnny didn’t even know he was supplying revolutionaries, guys opposed to the guy who was running Cuba for the Americans. In any case one fateful night Johnny cashed his check, took at dive down in the deep blue sea Caribbean from what some sailor who saw what happened told it. Yeah, every time I think about that bastard (he had stiffed me too for dough more than once in those days) I shed a tear.          

When Private Detective Novels Went From The Parlors To Hard-Boiled-The Transition-The Film Adaptation (Once Removed) Of Dashiell Hammett-Inspired “After The Thin Man”(1936)- A Film Review, Of Sorts

When Private Detective Novels Went From The Parlors To Hard-Boiled-The Transition-The Film Adaptation (Once Removed) Of Dashiell Hammett-Inspired “After The Thin Man”(1936)- A Film Review, Of Sorts



DVD Review
By Sam Lowell
After The Thin Man, starring Myra Loy, William Powell, James Stewart, a sequel from Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man, 1936

I admit up front I am a hard-boiled private detective guy (the public coppers, police procedurals if you like don’t even rate a mention today although I have reviewed a million of them in my forty plus years as a film critic, editor, reviewer) in the eternal battle to find some reason to pay hard-earned money to either sit down and read a crime novel or view a film noir. I have spent my career defining my take on film noir detectives and the like. Have written what almost all film critics have called the “bible” a tome about the film noir of the 1930s and 1940s, the golden age. I have also gone to bat for the creators of this hard-boiled genre, the guys who took private detection out of the parlor, usually the high-end parlor, out of the hands of amateur, actually almost accidental private detectives slumming while clipping their stock coupons or something. Above all I have paid homage to Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe series where private detection is for real including fists and slugs and Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade ditto on fists and slugs.   
Here is the funny part, the seemingly contradictory part. Hammett also made a great private detective (public copper turned private by the way which should not be held against him) in Nick Charles, played by William Powell, and his wife companion Nora, played by Myra Loy,  in his The Thin Man. Problem for a guy like me is that Nick and Nora, due to Nora’s money, are slumming on the high side, on the parlor side taking on cases where the rich have something at stake. Which brings us to my idea of the transition-the little sliver from parlor to hard-boiled taking a slight detour. Gentile surroundings but with enough fists and slugs to go around. This pacing which started with the film adaptation of The Thin Man continues in the first sequel After The Thin Man done in the aftermath of the success of the original film adaptation.                
Most of the actions takes place in high-end digs, maybe Russian or Nob Hill in San Francisco, and gin mills after Nick and Nora come back from vacation (maybe after having solved that original with the missing inventor, the thin man, caper although that was in New York City). Why? The errant husband, Robert, of a young Mayfair swell matron, West Coast division, Selma, has gone missing and the family, through its wicked witch of the West matriarch and arbiter of social norms is looking to discreetly look into the matter. Enter hated Nick (who had been brought up on the wrong side of the tracks AND was a public copper) who is egged on by Nora to take the case and maybe make some family peace-fat chance with the swells once they tag you with the low rent district whammy.
Turns out the errant hubby, still adored unconditionally by that na├»ve young Mayfair swell, has been hitting the gin mills and playing footsie with a torch singer, Polly, at a swank Chinese-themed nightclub run by a gangster, Nolo, and fronted by a Chinese businessman. This grifter, this errant husband, let’s say his name again to separate him from the other grifters making plans of their own, Robert, is nothing but a gold-digger, male division, whose only play is to try to get enough dough to split with Polly, the torch singer without  a heart of gold. Here’s where things get weird although you never know what a grifter will think up to get dough. Seems that a Mayfair swell eligible bachelor, David, played by young James Stewart, who made a portion of his career playing second fiddle to sexier errant males like Cary Grant, loved that young jilted Selma, had wanted to marry her before Robert fogged the night. Robert’s play was to touch David up for a big number (those days’ big number laughable today) pay-off and he would clear out (and do whatever he planned to do with that tramp Polly). Of course down in the mud, down in the gin mills and low life lanes where Polly and her boss Nolo resided the play was to grab the dough Robert got from David and play their own version of house. Nice crowd, right.     
All this action got stopped in its tracks though when dear Robert took a few slugs and fell down, fell down forever if you want to know. Guess who the prime suspect was though who was right there gun in hand. Selma, who had motive, means and opportunity after what this cad Robert had done to her. Despite all the circumstantial evidence against her it just can’t be holy goof Selma, not Nora’s relative. Nick is off and running to find the real murderer, actually multiple murderer because the real killer was seen by other parties. Nick, in the classic Nick way, piled up the evidence, figured out the half dozen possible real suspects and brought them all together under one roof with the public coppers present ready to escort the villain to the clink once he, or she, screamed “uncle” under Nick’s relentless interrogation. Guess what, you know the saying beware a woman scorned. Guys can work under that assumption as well. Turns out psycho holy goof David was the mad monk murderer who got unhinged after Selma gave him the air.  Go figure.  
[This Nick-Nora combo may be a transitional private detective, plus wife, plus dog but give me a guy like Sam Spade who was ready to turn over a femme just to save his own neck and didn’t think twice about it or Phil Marlowe going round and round with a couple of kinky sisters who liked to walk the wild side and lived to tell about it. S.L.]

“You, You Who Were On The Road- The Band’s “The Last Waltz” (1978)-A Film Review

“You, You Who Were On The Road- The Band’s “The Last Waltz” (1978)-A Film Review





DVD Review

By Film Editor Sandy Salmon

The Last Waltz, starring The Band, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond, Ronny Hawkins, Bob Dylan, and many other acts, directed by Martin Scorsese, 1978 

Without boring regular readers of the articles in this space (and of the on-line version of The American Film Gazette since it gave up its hard copy existence several years ago) I would like to mention a little interoffice “squabble” that has placed me in the position of doing this review. A review which I had already done almost forty years ago for the old hard copy version of The American Film Gazette when this music documentary The Last Waltz first came out in 1978. Maybe I had better say I want to put paid to the squabble. Recently my new hire Associate Film Editor Alden Riley complained here in cyberspace about having to do a review of a documentary The Monterey Pops Festival about the inaugural event as “punishment” for not knowing who Janis Joplin was. Maybe better stated as we used to say in the old neighborhood, the working class Riverbank section of Riverdale down in New Jersey he could have given a “rat’s ass” about doing projects connected with my on-going commemoration of the Summer of Love, 1967 which is having its 50th anniversary this year.

The idea had been hatched after Sam Lowell the now retired film editor in this space high school friend Alex James had gone out to San Francisco on a lark and had gone to the de Young Art Museum there to view an exhibition honoring that seminal year in the raging 1960s calendar. To not ruffle Alden’s feathers and keep him happy until he in the near future upon my own retirement takes on the film editor’s job himself anything even vaguely related to the Summer of Love, 1967 will be in my bailiwick.    

While the average citizen these days may not know (or give that rat’s ass I used to love to say back in the days) about the various musical acts in this film they are all intertwined with the 1960s even though the concert, The Last Waltz took place in 1976 at the run-down Winterland Theater in San Francisco long after the Summer of Love, and long after the new world a-borning ethos of the 1960s had begun to ebb. The Band had been if not an intricial part of the San Francisco scene certainly had been marked by and in turn left its mark on the 1960s. First through its association with Bob Dylan as his band when he began to stretch the parameters of folk into folk rock by the introduction of the electric guitar into that formerly staid milieu and then for several years on their own when they produced a number of classic rock-etched songs from that period.             

The reason for the Winterland concert (other than having it there as the first place they had given a concert) was to celebrate their collective retirement from the road, from the grind of the road after sixteen years of ups and downs. (Individual members would go their own ways musically and to other interests.) That is the real importance and what sets this Martin Scorsese production apart from other musical documentaries. Many time all you get is the performances but here Scorsese teases out the toll that constant touring takes on a band. Robbie Robinson the acknowledged leader of the group, was very emphatic about the travails of the road (and the good stuff too like the swarming girls and the dope). For those who long for a musical career this very informative film will chart the hard struggle from unknown small time band to a major force in the music industry. As the old neighborhood priest used to say to us Sunday sinners-many are called, but few are chosen.

Naturally a top band over a long stretch works with many other groups and individuals and they are on display here. Especially good are Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Neil Diamond and a wild man performance by Ronnie Hawkins the band’s first boss. But the top performances are clearly by The Band who go through their litany of classics and display an incredible ability to play many instruments not necessarily associated with rock and roll and to sing harmonies as they say-“spot on.” Watch to see once again what it was like when women and men played rock and roll for keeps.