And The Band played on: Levon Helm, right, and old friends dance The Last Waltz.
Arriving in theaters just ahead of a four-disc, outtakes-and-all boxed set and its Rhino Records-issued DVD companion, which comes crammed with two different commentary tracks and assorted effluvia, Martin Scorsese's rockudrama withstands big-screen scrutiny some 24 years after its initial release. Meant to be seen large and played loud, this bye-bye to The Band--Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and Rick Danko, each as essential as the others no matter how many loving close-ups Robbie R. gets--still matters and still moves; it even serves to wash away two decades' worth of bad vibes. The rancor (mostly between Helm and Robertson post-Band) and sadness (Manuel hanged himself in '86; Danko died in 1999) don't drown out the rock, which was plentiful on that Winterland stage Thanksgiving 1976: Neil Young, humming "Helpless," left behind the white noise for a white nose; the Staples Singers carry "The Weight" and then some; Emmylou Harris is "Evangeline"; Ronnie Hawkins lets his boys make a kid out of him; Muddy Waters lets the boys make a "Mannish Boy" out of him; and, damn it all, Bob Dylan could sing the shit out of a song back then, before he sang like shit. Notable, too, for Van Morrison's superhero outfit (The Purple Elf?), Neil Diamond backing off the circling sharks and Scorsese's sycophantic questions, which paved the way for Chris Farley.