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Levon Helm, “Last Waltz” and more

April 23, 2012 - Mike Donahey
The recent death of Levon Helm, singer and drummer of the Band, brought back fond memories of "rockumentary" “The Last Waltz,” featuring the group, album “Before the Flood” with Bob Dylan and an 8-track of greatest hits. With Helm as a major influence, the Band made its way up the ladder from bar band to Dylan’s back-up band to striking out their own, all the while successfully melding blues, folk, gospel and rock. I’ve since ordered a three-CD set of their first three releases including “Music from Big Pink,” a work I’ve wanted since high school. After the band split in ‘76, Helm went on to earn two Grammys and managed a renown recording studio in Woodstock, N.Y. He will be missed by many. One person wrote of Helm: “He was one person you could turn your back on in this business.” The Band’s hit “Up on Cripple Creek” was performed a cappella by our family many times during long car trips.

Now to films. “The Last Waltz” (1978) Filmed Thanksgiving eve 1976, Martin Scorsese’s excellent work captures the Band’s final concert at San Francisco’s Winterland. Appearing with them were a Who’s Who of rock — Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Muddy Waters and Ron Wood. Scorsese captured high-energy performances “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “The Weight.” One critic called it “the best rock film ever made.”

Also worth seeing again are: “The Insider” (1999) Russell Crowe is excellent as former Brown & Williamson employee Jeffrey Wigan, who agrees to reveal tobacco industry secrets. The film rates a “10” in my book depicting “60 Minutes” staffer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) arguing forcefully with late program producer Don Hewitt and CBS corporate about reporting the compelling story. “Bang the Drum Slowly” (1973) A young Robert DeNiro plays baseball player Bruce Pearson, a catcher who learns he has an incurable disease. Michael Moriarity co-stars. “Eight Men Out” (1988) The movie sheds light on infamous 1919 “Black Sox” scandal. Several members of American League champions White Sox rebel against owner Charles Comiskey’s tight-fisted ways and agree to “throw” World Series. All star cast includes John Cusack, Charlie Sheen and David Strathairn. This just in ... Crowe to be cast as Noah of biblical fame. Fittingly, "Noah" is tentatively scheduled for release March, 2014 according to Entertainment Weekly and other sources.

 
 

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