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Although this music documentary about Robbie Robertson and the Band is directed by Canadian film-maker Daniel Roher, the great Martin Scorsese takes an executive producer credit and is also interviewed briefly on screen. Sure enough, Once Were Brothers feels a lot like one of Scorsese’s distinctive rock docs, particularly The Last Waltz, his 1978 record of the Band’s last live gig – with crisper digital photography and nearly the same star power in the lineup of interviewees.
While there’s no Joni Mitchell or Neil Young, you do get Bruce Springsteen rhapsodising about the Band’s influence and craftsmanship, while sometime Band cronies and collaborators of yore – including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Van Morrison – chip in with reminiscences about the good old days. As in Scorsese’s rock docs, there are reams of archive footage and rare snapshots to swoon over (Dylan’s striped trousers from 1967 never get old), all seamlessly edited together by Roher and Eamonn O’Connor.
The terrifyingly industrious Robertson effectively narrates the story and takes centre stage, which is probably right considering how central he was to the outfit. Due credit is also given to the contributions from Garth Hudson as well as the three band members who have died: Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, and above all drummer Levon Helm. The last gets a loving tribute: recognition for his instrumentality to the original lineup, praise for his musicianship and awe for his wildly free spirit. The story about Helm taking a sabbatical in the early days to work on an oil rig off the Gulf Coast is enough to make one nostalgic for a time when musicians were workers before they were celebrities.
It’s a little disappointing – if hardly surprising given the period covered – that there are hardly any women interviewed here, or even featured in the flashbacks, apart from Dominique Robertson, Robbie’s ex-wife who offers an interesting side-eye view of the group. But them’s the breaks.
Source: The Guardian
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