Regarded as one of the most influential female artists of the 20th century, Joni Mitchell is an incredibly important part of music history. Known for her meditative, philosophical songwriting which had a huge impact on popular culture, Mitchell’s works remain relevant and contribute to the growing political consciousness of younger generations who discover her art.
While she rose to prominence as a musician, Mitchell has always maintained an avid interest in the visual arts. In secondary school, she pursued her interest in painting by training under the expressionist artist Henry Bonli but eventually grew disillusioned due to the condition of the education system and the commercialisation of art.
Having designed many of her own album covers, Mitchell has insisted on multiple occasions that she is a “painter derailed by circumstance”. With that, her love for the visual medium is reflected in her taste in cinema as well. Mitchell has even expressed her interest in making films just like the articulation of her obsession with painting but music emerged as her primary avenue.
Although her dreams of being a filmmaker did not materialise, Mitchell did appear in one of the most celebrated American films of the ’70s when Martin Scorsese made The Last Waltz. Marketed as The Band’s “farewell concert appearance”, The Last Waltz featured some of the greatest music icons ranging from Bob Dylan to Neil Young.
While looking back on the production of The Last Waltz, Mitchell said: “I was the only woman there; they added a couple of women after the fact. So that was strange—it was like being a girl on a football team.” She claimed that she never really ran into Scorsese during the making of the film but she admired him as well as his trusted film editor Thelma Schoonmaker for their technical magnificence.
When asked about some of the other filmmakers who have influenced her, Mitchell cited Federico Fellini and Andrei Tarkovsky as two of the greatest artists of the 20th century. Although she admitted that she loved French New Wave gems as well, Mitchell added that the movies were “boring” sometimes but she loved the fashion styles of the actors.
“My style of songwriting is influenced by cinema,” Mitchell elaborated. “I’m a frustrated filmmaker. A fan once said to me, ‘Girl, you make me see pictures in my head!’ and I took that as a great compliment. That’s exactly my intention.” A 4K restoration of The Last Waltz is now being handled by the Criterion Collection and is scheduled to come out next year.