Buena Vista Social Club
In 1996, composer, producer, and guitar legend Ry Cooder entered Egrem Studios in Havana with the forgotten greats of Cuban music, many of them in their 60s and 70s, some of them long since retired. The resulting album, Buena Vista Social Club, became a Grammy-winning international bestseller. When Cooder returned to Havana in 1998 to record a solo album by 72-year-old vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer, filmmaker Wim Wenders was on hand to document the occasion. Wenders splits the film between portraits of the performers, who tell their stories directly to the camera as they wander the streets and neighborhoods of Havana, and a celebration of the music heard in performance scenes in the studio, in their first concert in Amsterdam, and in their second and final concert at Carnegie Hall. The songs are too often cut short in this fashion, but Buena Vista Social Club is not a concert film. Wenders weaves the artist biographies with a glimpse of modern Cuba remembering its past, capturing a lost culture in music that is suddenly, unexpectedly revived for audiences in Havana and around the world. It's a loving portrait of a master class in Cuban music, with a vital cast of aging performers whose energy and passion belie their years. --Sean Axmaker
This is not sopping-wet-with-ego rock music, for Pete's sake! This is genuine virtuoso Cuban dance music, but Cooder and his crew, when isolating each individual musician, decided to turn down the volume of all the other parts! How ridiculous! There were only a very few short segments when you get to hear how the ensemble actually sounds like. I mean, what's the point?
Many of the instruments (such as the piano) which are used almost exclusively as melodic/harmonic instruments in our culture are more engaged in for their rhythmic propensities in Cuba and Africa. Isolating them like this completely kills the sense that this is music.
And then oftentimes when the whole ensemble is playing, the engineer dials in so much reverb that it muddies up the mux. Again, you lose the sense of what Cuban music is, and how it sounds. What right do these guys have to make roots music sound something like reverb-drenched heavy metal? There's a difference between freedom of speech and free dumb of screech!
I was very surprized a couple of years after the movie to be in a coffee shop here in town and hear some absolute kick-butt old-style Cuban music playing on their stereo. I asked what it was, and found that it was the the original 'Buena Vista Social Club' CD compilation which came out sometime prior to the movie and inspired it. This CD did not have the problems at all that came with the later video/movie, at least not the cuts I got to listen to.
Note that if you don't know this type music very well, the documentary parts of the movie are excellent . . . probably at least 4 stars for that, probably more.