While Robbie Robertson’s early career was defined as being one of the founding members of The Band and all the monumental musical achievements they notched, the last few decades have found him indulging in his love of film as a composer. A personal and professional partnership with Martin Scorsese grew out of the latter being the director of 1978’s The Last Waltz, a movie about The Band’s last gig at the Winterland Ballroom as performed by all five original members and arguably one of the greatest rock documentaries of all time. Robertson’s love affair with the movies began when he was a kid.
“I thought that if I hadn’t gotten addicted to music at such a young age and thrown myself into it 100 percent, I would have ended up being a screenwriter or filmmaker of some kind,” he said. “The idea of movies that could tell a story and make you part of it. What really pushed my button was film noir. I was so drawn to the look, the vibe and again, to the danger. That drew me in and it’s when I became dedicated and addicted to movies. I just kept going deeper and deeper until I was finally checking out [Akira] Kurosawa and [Federico] Fellini. The I wanted to know more about [Ingmar] Bergman and [Luis] Buñuel and on and on. And of course before that, Howard Hawks, Orson Welles, John Ford and all of these tremendous American film directors.”
Robertson’s discovery phase found him going down the rabbit hole of numerous directors including Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini and the late Michelangelo Antonioni, who eventually became a friend. Here are a few more filmmakers the Canadian Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has a soft spot for.
Michael Powell (September 30, 1905 to February 19, 1990) and Emeric Pressburger (December 5, 1902 to February 5, 1988)
“Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger made some amazing movies. Peeping Tom is an incredible film.”
Orson Welles (May 6, 1915 to October 10, 1985)
“I don’t argue with anybody who says Citizen Kane is so incredible. I agree 100 percent. How did Orson Welles have the guts, mental capacity, writing ability and where to put the camera. Holy [crap]. Brilliant.”
John Ford (February 1, 1894 to August 31, 1973)
“I have very mixed feelings about westerns. Just because of the stereotypical and ridiculous ways that Native Americans were portrayed. That was tricky swallowing that. But then Marty [Scorsese] convinced me to just look at the filmmaking. In these movies, it’s not the message. It’s literally just a trip. His filmmaking style, these characters and all of this stuff—because The Searchers—it’s tough, because it’s a racist movie. John Wayne plays a hardcore racist in it. And he plays it well (laughs), which was worrisome.”
Luis Buñuel (February 22, 1900 to July 29, 1983)
“This guy’s imagination fascinated me—it was out of control.”
Martin Scorsese (November 17, 1942 to present)
“I think Marty is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time. I just think that he is so learned in his craft and his instincts for music are phenomenal. So I don’t know if it gets much better than that.”