‘The Last Waltz’ to screen Thursday at library

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Next up in the Mesa Public Library’s Free Film Series is a film Chicago Tribune critic Michael Wilmington called “the greatest rock concert movie ever made – and maybe the best rock movie, period.”

Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz” (1978, rated PG) will screen at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the library’s upstairs meeting room.

It’s Thanksgiving, 1976. An ice rink and music hall in San Francisco called the Winterland Ballroom hosts a crowd of 5,000 for what concert promoter Bill Graham dubs “rock ‘n’ roll’s last supper” as The Band plays its farewell concert, also known as “The Last Waltz.”

“The Last Waltz,” both the concert and the film, features some of the biggest names in ’70s rock. Those joining The Band onstage for its legendary grand finale (though it regrouped, without guitarist Robbie Robertson, and began another tour in 1983) include Neil Young, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan.

For their $25 tickets, audience members were also treated to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. They ate a total of 220 turkeys, 500 pounds of cranberry sauce, 90 gallons of gravy, one ton of candied yams, 6,000 rolls, and 400 gallons of cider, as well as 400 pounds of fresh salmon. Rock fans even danced to the music of a 38-piece orchestra, joined by professional ballroom dancers.

Scorsese and some of the era’s best cinematographers captured the whole show for posterity using elaborate filming techniques, which included digging into the floor to anchor a tower for one of the cameramen, and a 300-page shooting script. The film showcases footage of the performers backstage as well.

What a night. And for those who continue to love these artists, what a movie.

“The Last Waltz” is offered thanks to the Friends of Los Alamos County Libraries, which funds the Mesa Public Library Free Film Series’ screenings on the first Thursday of each month.