Saturday, February 22, 2020

Once Were Brothers - A Documentary about The Band Until 1976

Back in the Fall, I read in the Bob Dylan fanzine Isis that a documentary about the Band was going to be released.  In November, it was shown once at a film festival in NYC, but finally yesterday it was released to limited theaters.  We went to Greenwich Village and saw it at the IFC Center.  For my readers who are not familiar with the group the members were:
  • Robbie Robertson
  • Levon Helm (deceased)
  • Rick Danko (deceased)
  • Richard Manuel (deceased)
  • Garth Hudson
The film is loosely based on Testimony, an autobiography of Robbie.  He did acknowledge the contributions of the other members, he was the protagonist of the film.  He talked about his family history including how he found out the John Robertson was not his real father and that his biological father was Jewish.  He traced the history of the group as it started out as the Hawks who were the background of Ronnie Hawkins who was interviewed in the film.  Other musicians who were interviewed included:
  • Eric Clapton
  • George Harrison
  • Van Morrison
  • Taj Mahal
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Jann Wenner
Much time was devoted to their backing of Bob Dylan in 1966 when they were booed as Dylan's folk music fans rebelled against his conversion to rock.  After this tour, Dylan and the group moved to Woodstock, NY where they recorded numerous hours of music in a house called Big Pink.  The  Band then recorded several successful albums on their own.  In 1974 they backed Dylan in a very successful tour.

The seminal concert "The Last Waltz" the subject of an earlier documentary was also considered in the current film.  At that point, the group split up as they felt that 16 years together was enough.

I felt the film was too "Robbie centric".  His wife Dominique was interviewed during several segments, but relatives of the deceased members were not.  There were no current interviews with Garth Hudson.  Did he refuse to participate?

There was no mention that the group reformed in the 1980s without Robbie.  I did see the reconstituted group c1987 at the Westbury Music Fair.  During a tour in 1986, Richard Manuel committed suicide in a hotel room. 

I enjoyed the film and highly recommend it to Bob Dylan fans as there were still photos and videos of him in this film that I never saw.

Robbie Robertson's Once Were Brothers from his  recent album Sinematic


Unknown said...

I have seen your pictures and read your journal before. Every now and then I get nostalgic for Rego Park, having lived there from 1954-1974 at 64-59 Austin St.

I am planning to see the film on Tuesday at the Neon Movies in the Oregon District of downtown
Dayton Ohio.

Bruce S said...

Unknown - perhaps we knew each other as I lived in Rego Park from 1954-74 as well. You can email me at to tell me your identity.

Unknown said...

My apologies, I thought my email would identify me.

My name is Arnold J. Shaner.

See my Facebook page: Arnold Shaner

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