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Laserlight DVD presents

Robbie Robertson: Going Home (1995)

"...a little of this and a little of that and you put in these different elements and you mix it up and you make a new gumbo and that gumbo is what they call rock and roll."- Robbie Robertson

Stars: Robbie Robertson, Martin Scorcese, Ronnie Hawkins
Other Stars: Eric Clapton, Daniel Lanois, Willie Dixon, Barry Levinson
Director: Findlay Bunting

MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 01h:09m:00s
Release Date: 1998-07-14
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer


DVD Review

Robbie Robertson is a unique figure in rock music; famous, but not well known; influential, but often unrecognized. He is legendary, but few people know exactly why. This documentary goes a long way towards accomplishing dual goals. It gives us an appealing portrait of Robertson as a person and musician, and it does much to place him in context as an important musical figure. Although generally light on the details, merely touching on some important events and completely ignoring others, this documentary is still an intriguing and interesting glimpse into the thoughts, history and work of a singular guitar player.

In addition to extensive conversations with Robertson, Going Home features remarks and reminiscences from the world of music and film. Producer Daniel Lanois, who worked with Robertson on several projects, talks enthusiastically about a musician he admires very much and with whom he enjoys working. Filmmaker Martin Scorcese, who filmed The Band in their Woodstock appearance and directed their film The Last Waltz, appears in echoes of the interview sequences seen in that film, right down to a fly that enters the scene just as it did in The Last Waltz. The singer/bandleader who first hired Robertson and his future bandmates into a barnstorming group called the Hawks, Ronnie Hawkins, contributes some very amusing anecdotes about the youthful adventures of the 15-year old guitarist.

The documentary features a wide range of rare archival clips of Robertson and The Band, along with contemporary video and performance footage of Robertson and his Red Rock Ensemble. Robertson recorded with Bob Dylan on his classic Blonde on Blonde album and wrote such memorable songs such as The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down and The Weight. The musical influence of The Band strengthened in the late Sixties, as the music scene emerged from its period of frenetic psychedelia and sought a more authentic sound.

There are three segments in the documentary focusing on The Band (known then as The Hawks), including Bob Dylan material from the rarely seen Eat The Document. That film, recorded during a 1965 world tour, chronicled Dylan's attempts to marry the verbal density of folk music with the raucous cacophony of rock and roll. Robertson notes that they were booed every night. There is one clip of Dylan and Robertson in a hotel room, as well as two performance clips, the often-seen I Don't Believe You and the rarer Too Many Mornings.

Partly because of Dylan, and partly because of their manager Albert Grossman, Robertson and The Band gravitated to Woodstock, New York, where they recorded the now legendary Basement Tapes, an underground release of which is often cited as the first "bootleg" album. A clip of The Band performing Up On Cripple Creek, labeled The Basement Tapes(1968), has been described on a web site about The Band as having been filmed in Sammy Davis Jr.'s pool room. A double album of these recordings was finally given an official release by Columbia Records in 1977.

There is actually very little coverage of The Band in this documentary. There is, however, a humorous anecdote related by Robertson, about the group's first concert performance at Winterland in San Francisco, where promoter Bill Graham and Grossman brought in a hypnotist to help the ailing Robertson recover enough to take the stage! The Band appeared at the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969 but, like Janis Joplin, were omitted from the ensuing movie and the popular album. Nothing is said about the possible career impact of this event, and no mention is made of the appearance of The Band as Dylan's backing group at the Isle of Wight Pop Festival the next year.

The documentary jumps past the story of The Band to cover its final days during the filming of The Last Waltz in 1979 at Winterland. Featuring such guest artists as Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan, the film is considered one of the best rock documentaries of all time, and a stirring clip of Stage Fright is included here.

After the dissolution of The Band, Robertson continued as a solo artist, forming the Red Rock Ensemble and blending his music with Native American musical styles to great effect. Two very good video segments feature the group performing the songs SkinWalker and What About Now.

The Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and this documentary includes a great series of rehearsal clips of The Weight, with Eric Clapton, followed by a stage performance with an all-star group of sidemen. Clapton makes some fascinating remarks about his desire to join The Band following the break up of Cream.

Robertson produced the music score for Scorcese's Raging Bull, but no mention is made of his acting debut in the forgettable Carny with Gary Busey. A funny behind-the-scenes clip of director Sean Penn, calling Robertson from his trailer for his final shot opposite Jack Nicholson in The Crossing Guard, provides a look at Robertson's recent Hollywood activity.

This documentary garnered two Emmy nominations for Robertson, in the categories of Outstanding Individual Achievement - Cultural Programming and Outstanding Individual Achievement in Music and Lyrics, for the song Pray.

This DVD is an excellent addition to any fan's music history collection. Although not very deep, it is still very entertaining and eminently watchable.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image transfer is nicely done, with a richness of color that belies its origin as a television special. Archival footage is interwoven with material recorded specifically for the show, and the material is well presented.

Image Transfer Grade: B

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The stereo audio is solid, nicely mixing interview and musical material. Various sources were used in the original television production, but there is nary a jarring moment. The interviews are clearly audible and arranged in context with the music, achieving a smooth musical documentary flow.

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Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Packaging: Snapper
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: No extras are to be had here. In documentaries like this, with musical clips prominently featured, I think the absence of raw footage really damages the disc's repeat viewability. These are fantastic, historically valuable performances by The Band and others; I don't mind the interview segment interruptions during the first or even second viewing, but I would love to be able to see the songs in their entirety, as originally shot. One of the biggest selling points of DVD is the potential for extra content, and here there are none, not even a discography.

Extras Grade: F

Final Comments

Well-crafted and ultimately satisfying, this documentary features Robbie Robertson as he looks back on his participation in some of music's most historic and seminal moments, with great archival footage and contemporary concert performances.

Jesse Shanks 2001-04-20