Aging Cuban musicians whose talents had been virtually forgotten following Castro's takeover of Cuba, are brought out of retirement by Ry Cooder, who travelled to Havana in order to bring the musicians together, resulting in triumphant performances of extraordinary music, and resurrecting the musicians' careers.
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A group of legendary Cuban musicians, some as old as their nineties, were brought together by Ry Cooder to record a CD. In this film, we see and hear some of the songs being recorded in Havana. There is also footage from concerts in Amsterdam and New York City's Carnegie Hall. In addition, many of the individual musicians talk about their lives in Cuba and about how they got started in music. Written by
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The Buena Vista Social Club album was put together by guitarist Ry Cooder in 1997 as a means of recapturing the "lost" music of pre-revolutionary Havana. The story was later made into this movie. See more »
To start with, there is the amazing backdrop of dilapidated old Havana, which Wenders admittedly got for free. Nevertheless, he pulls out shots which are so luminous and well constructed that they make you gasp, and all done on a digital betacam! This makes BVSC one of the few documentaries I have ever seen which must be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated. Although I've never been to Havana, it also appeared to me that Wenders may have judged well in his balance by showing Havana as a poor broken down city and not just a place full of '50s cars, grand old buildings and omnipresent "faded glory".
The stars of the film are the old folks, of course. In some ways, the point of the film is not music - this could have been a film about people from any field. Instead, this is simply a record of what people have to say looking back on experiences from their lives which we can never repeat.
Perhaps there was a slight temptation at editing stage to steer the film towards certain themes. There was without a doubt rather a lot of places where the intended conclusion of the audience seemed to be "wow - old men can be cheeky... and they still have libidos!", but maybe only they can say whether the men themselves consider the film to be a fair reflection of the whole of their personalities, and I doubt we will ever find out.
Two points about the musical side. First, I continue to worry about Ry Cooder and his son Joaquim. Do they really need to be there? Ferrer and the old timers all kept tight lipped about Ry's slide guitar, NOT, I thought a prerequisite instrument of the average Cuban "son" band, and dare I say it, distractingly awful in at least one place in the film. Can't comment so much about Joaquim's style when playing the drums, but there must surely be some 50-90 year old cuban drummer cursing his luck that he isn't in on the party thanks to Cooder Jr.?
Second, what do Ferrer et al think about the music they are making now? How does it compare to how they considered they performed in decades gone by? Might they freely admit (as I suspect, honest and carefree as they clearly are) that they are reproducing now something which they did a lot better when they were younger? The question was never asked.
It's a tough point to make, but the average "son" singer does not I imagine consider at the outset of his career that he will only be hitting his peak in his eighth or ninth decade! If they do admit to having had a golden period in the past, why did Wenders not let us see footage of some of that. I doubt if any but a few of his audience have any knowledge of the Cuban music of the 40s and 50s so as to judge with any accuracy what merit there is in the music they are creating today. And without that, the risk is that the players are being cheered not for their musical skills but merely as museum pieces and for the fact that they are capable of doing it at their age at all. I had the slightly uneasy feeling by the end of the film that Wenders might have excluded old footage on the basis that it would show up the modern recordings as something less than the genre at its best.
You should go and see it and then tell me why I am wrong on those points, which hardly dent my rating for this as a definite 9+!
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