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Reviews & Ratings for
Buena Vista Social Club More at IMDbPro »

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Index 78 reviews in total 

25 out of 31 people found the following review useful:

Wenders succeeds

Author: mambogod from islington, london, england
14 October 1999

This is a top class film in so many ways.

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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18 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

great music, wonderful images

9/10
Author: Juan Carlos Garay from Bogota, Colombia
26 December 1999

Besides the sones, guarachas and boleros (basic styles of good-old Cuban music), the beauty of this documentary relies on Wim Wenders' magnificent camera use.

It is impossible not to feel the emotion of the crowded Carnegie Hall in the climax scenes, but there are also many other images that carry the viewer to more intimate experiences of La Habana, its music and musicians. Wenders' camera takes us to the Conservatory, where pianist Ruben Gonzalez rehearses surrounded by children; or to the Egrem Recording Studio, where singers Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo look at each other's eyes while rendering one of the most beautiful boleros I've heard in my life.

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19 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

Flawed, yet touching and ultimately beautiful work

10/10
Author: Texasguy from Sarah Lawrence College
4 March 2000

Is this film perfect? By all means, no. In places the camera work waves out of control, and the constant featuring of Ry Cooder grows tedious. Yet despite all of this, there are certain images that this film captures that have refused to leave my mind. I get chills just thinking about Eliada Ochoa tearing up during her rendition of "Silencio" as she is filmed before an audience of thousands in Stockholm. I will never forget Ruben Gonzalez sitting at his piano basking in applause. And, of course, seeing Ibrahim Ferrer walk through the streets of midtown Mannhattan in utter awe is enough to make any man choke up. Though flawed, this picture never fails to stand as moving testament to the triumph of the human spirit. For these beautiful moments alone, I give this poignant film a 10.

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20 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

Spirit Defined

Author: dveale from San Francisco, CA
30 June 1999

Loving Wim as I do, I was intrigued to see what he could achieve with this group of stellar musicians.

In a word, Greatness.

Having this group of warm, vital and oh so talented people sure helped him out. What is captured, for me, is the incredible staying power of true, heart felt music. These people sing, play and dance with a sense of worship. Having seen many hard times and passed through trials and tribulations (that we in the US have little understanding for) these people through faith and belief, persevered and continue to shine like diamonds.

Wim also conveys an old world beauty in a place run over by westernization. The surf smacking the coast line and spraying the ol' 50's cars racing down the road. The streets at night dimly lit, allowing the colors to permeate your senses. You feel like you can taste the blues and touch the pinks. The bright afternoon sun, sparkling among the ruin of buildings long forgotten to some but revered still by others. A magical yet very real place is given to us to explore in this film. I, along with many others, have an overwhelming urge to go to Cuba now and experience for myself.

If you have a chance to see any of these musicians live, DO SO! You will not be disappointed. If you do not, see this movie and get yourself a taste that will leave you breathless for more.

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19 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

Well-done documentary about long forgotten Cuban musicians ...

7/10
Author: dwpollar from Evansville, Indiana USA
14 March 2001

1st watched 3/14/2001 - (Dir-Wim Wenders): Well-done documentary about long forgotten Cuban musicians and American country musician Ry Cooder's adventure into putting together this band. The music is captivating, the musician's come across as greatful wonderful people who just happen to be able to play their particular instrument very well. Tremendous look into Cuba and it's people with many shots of the city Havana. These musicians are very proud of their country and have no intention of difecting as we as Americans feel that they would because of our limited exposure into this culture. Rare opportunity to walk into a land and people that we don't often see.

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27 out of 40 people found the following review useful:

This could have been a brilliant documentary

Author: Brigid O Sullivan (wisewebwoman) from Toronto, Canada
2 September 2000

And why wasn't it? The editing, the shaky hand held cameras which made it difficult to read the subtitles, the musical numbers cut off before completion, the insertion of Ry Cooder and or his son into practically every frame, the story management - why did it not show the preparation and rehearsals leading up to the climax of Carnegie Hall. The touristy reactions in New York were too kitchsy for words and took the dignity of these brilliant musicians away. I wanted more of these musicians' stories and my favourite sequence was of the pianist playing in Havana and all these tiny little ballerinas dancing around him, caught up in the magic. More of the history of the Buena Vista Social Club would have been wonderful also - this was sad in its omission. These incredible musicians were not served well here.

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14 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Wonderful Music

9/10
Author: gbheron from Washington, DC
25 September 2005

When I rented Buena Vista Social Club I didn't have any appreciation for the type of music played by the Club; I still don't know what it's called. I rented the movie because I'm a Ry Cooder fan, and have seen some Wim Wenders' movies I liked. I wasn't expecting much, but the result is that I've just seen one of the best documentaries in my life. The premise is very simple, it's all about the old musicians and the wonderful music they make. You get to visit their modest homes, hang out in their neighborhoods, and listen to their music. Nothing more than that, but done so well, so effortlessly, you wish you could step through the screen and join them. I would recommend this film to anyone.

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12 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Cuba delights, Cooder gets the credits

9/10
Author: Andrei_Ciprian from Bucharest, Romania
8 August 2005

This movie was a must for me, not for cinematographic reasons but for the piece of music history it contains. I had heard Ibrahim Ferrer was coming to Romania with Buenos Hermanos Tour. So I tried to find out all about the Buena Vista history. I have found Cuba a far away, resolute place, nevertheless glamorous and melancholic. Popular Cuban music is an absolute jewel that had to be forgotten even in its' own country and then brought back into the limelight by the likes of Cooder and Wenders. Cooder is a scavenger that wanders the exotic musical destinations for the next big hit. The film is centered too much on Cooder, and I find the time allotted to Ibrahim, Omara, Compay, Barbarito, Cachaito and the others (the real musical giants) unsatisfactory. You only get a glimpse and then have to run away for the next character... Yet, Wenders manages to catch the sweetness in the Cuban relaxed lifestyle, beautiful Rembrandt-like sunshine coming through leaves and a touch of history and relaxed musicians in the act of recollecting.

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9 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Charming film - the people behind the music

9/10
Author: mstomaso from Vulcan
17 October 2005

It's hard to imagine a better set up for a magical documentary: Wim Wenders, Ry Cooder and a group of ancient and brilliant Cuban musicians. This film tells the story of the reassembling of the Buena Vista Social Club, as a sort of composite house-band including several popular Cuban jazz musicians, most of whom had given up their musical careers long ago. Ry Cooder helped get the players together, played with them, adding his respectfully subtle guitar work to the mix, and got their album released to popular and critical success worldwide.

What I found most impressive about this film is the humility with which it was approached by Ry Cooder. Mr Cooder has done some great work in the world of music, and this must be counted among his triumphs. However, I would have to agree with Mr Cooder, that the credit for the magic of the Buena Vista Social Club was all in the chemistry and performance of its Cuban stars. To see what I mean by all of this, you should see the movie. Whether you buy the CD or see the movie first matters little. You should do BOTH.

Wim Wenders also, intelligently and appropriately, lets this story tell itself. Only occasionally does his artistry (as potent as it is) flare up - such as the scenes with the pianist (who Wenders clearly adores, and understandably so). All in all, the American / German production team on this film takes a back seat to the music, and the stories behind the musicians. I found this a refreshingly honest documentary approach and I thoroughly enjoyed the film.

My enjoyment rating is 10+. I gave the film an 9 because I am sure some will dislike either the music or the proactive approach toward Cuban/American relations. It's definitely not a film for all people. Don't watch it if Cuba brings up strong negative emotions for you.

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9 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Lovely Film -- but...

Author: Fantomas-6 from New York, usa
14 January 2000

I just got to see this on video last night. It's a lovely film, and the protagonists are memorable. My one problem, however, is with Ry Cooder. Don't misunderstand my admiration for Cooder's past work. He's an original, often evocative guitarist and composer. I just felt that his additions to these recordings -- both in the studio and in their concert versions -- were intrusive at the least. That wailing slide guitar just about ruined some great songs. I'm surprised the gentlemen and ladies of the band didn't say anything. It was a relief when he sat out of a performance. I really wanted to jump into the film, tap him on the shoulder and ask him to put down his guitar and just sit behind the mixing board!

OK. That's my rant. This is an impressive and lovely film.

If you have a chance, track down 1997's Black Tears (lagrimas Negras).

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