Martin Scorsese Honors Robbie Robertson’s Legacy with Tribute Concert: The Musician ‘Broke Barriers’

Martin Scorsese honored late rocker Robbie Robertson with the tribute concert “Robbie Robertson: A Celebration of His Life and Music,” during which the auteur recalled how Robertson’s scores marked a “turning point” in his career.

The private memorial concert was hosted at Village Studios in Los Angeles, with artists Jackson Browne, Rocco Deluca, Angela McCluskey, Blake Mills Group, and Citizen Cope performing. Robertson, the former The Band guitarist, died at age 80 in August 2023. Scorsese first met Robertson during concert documentary film “The Last Waltz” in 1976; the duo collaborated for decades after, with Robertson serving as the music producer and composer on films like “The King of Comedy,” “Silence,” “The Aviator,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and most recently, “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

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“We kept working together for the next 45 years,” Scorsese said of Robertson scoring “Raging Bull” and adding another working layer to their friendship. “Forty-five years of mutual education and a process that had started back in that house. Forty-five years of me discussing the films I was making, the individual scenes; I tried to express the atmosphere, the tone […] trying to create the music that would complete my vision of that world and what I needed. And as we talked, these words became the music on ‘Raging Bull.’

Robertson selected songs by Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and more iconic musicians to create “the soundtrack of the world that I grew up in,” Scorsese said.

Scorsese called “The Color of Money” the “turning point” in 1985 of his friendship with Robertson, with the musician bringing in recording artists like Don Henley, Robert Palmer, and Eric Clapton to produce songs for the film.

Ten years later, and Robertson’s music production on “Casino” changed how Scorsese approached adding music to his films.

“I scored ‘Casino’ in 1995 with prerecorded music that needed to be constant. It had three hours of wall-to-wall prerecorded music,” Scorsese said. “And Robbie walks by and he says, ‘Listen to me, this is it.’ And it was the ‘Theme De Camille’ [from ‘Contempt’] by Georges Delerue. And he said, ‘Remember this piece?’ That simple suggestion opened up to me a whole new set of possibilities. I can use music from other films that was scored for the movie; why not? And I didn’t have to be limited in my choices. He broke barriers for me and took away all these old limitations. This music was from this masterpiece film called ‘Contempt’ by Jean-Luc Godard, which had a dramatic theme. By the way, it was similar to ‘Casino,’ broken trust between couples, et cetera. So I said, let’s take it further.”

Robertson also left his creative mark with specific needle drops on films like “The Aviator” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Scorsese recalled how he wanted “The Aviator” to end with Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Howard Hughes looking in the mirror and “seeing the American future” with the right song playing.

“I needed something to express it, but nothing felt quite right. I was really stuck,” Scorsese remembered. “And then after a screening, Robbie walks by sort of like a ghost, and he turned to me and just said, ‘Don’t forget “Moonlight Serenade.”‘ So I tried it, and it worked.”

The “Departed” Oscar winner further addressed one of Robertson’s greatest achievements: crafting the “sound of silence” for Scorsese’s “Silence.”

“This was a major challenge because we’re trying to find what sounds like silence,” Scorsese said. “It’s very difficult.”

According to Scorsese, it was a good thing Robertson was a master at being comfortable in utter silence.

“We were friends. I feel friendship is private. It’s trust. Sometimes it’s forgiveness and it’s love. But sometimes silence suffices, silence can be enough,” Scorsese said. “And that’s another thing about this guy. Silence. As much as Robbie’s words had eloquence, his silences were just as eloquent. It was a little unnerving at first when I got to meet him. [He was] just sitting there, looking. I had to think about those silences.”

Scorsese added that Robertson’s last collaboration with him for “Killers of the Flower Moon” was “one of the most beautiful scores” ever written for a film. “His music is the beating heart of the picture,” Scorsese said. “He called it The Pulse.”

“Killers of the Flower Moon” lead actor DiCaprio even said that Robertson’s voice cast a “spell” that only masterful storytellers have.

“He always had to pay off on a punchline, a great conclusion,” Scorsese recalled of Robertston. “He was a storyteller, not a great raconteur. A real storyteller went much deeper than a raconteur. He held you with the rhythm of his words and his pauses, and it all became music later […] Ultimately everything is music, and it gave me a deeper understanding of gravity and that great human tradition that he was somehow born into.”

Reporting by Anne Thompson.

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