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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The tapestry of life through their music
A previous writer's comment, "The movie needs a story, a thread going all the way through," illustrates a major difference between North American and Hispanic thinking. While those of northern European descent tend to think and talk in a more or less linear fashion, as if following just one thread, Hispanics tend to think and talk as if weaving a tapestry of...
Published on March 12 2004

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Horrible sound editing trivializes the experience
Yes, I saw the movie. I had reveled in music like this on another compilation titled 'Cuba Classics: Dancing with the Enemy'. But the movie destroys the sense of how these musicians rhythmically mesh with and play off of each other.
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...
Published on March 25 2002 by Phil Rogers


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The tapestry of life through their music, March 12 2004
By A Customer
A previous writer's comment, "The movie needs a story, a thread going all the way through," illustrates a major difference between North American and Hispanic thinking. While those of northern European descent tend to think and talk in a more or less linear fashion, as if following just one thread, Hispanics tend to think and talk as if weaving a tapestry of many threads. This film captures perfectly the tapestry effect in that you are not aware that a story is being told until the final scene at Carnegie Hall, when the impact, and the import, of the entire picture becomes crystal clear. You have to be comfortable with not knowing exactly where you are to handle this kind of exposition. If this is not a story of excellence forgotten and rediscovered, I don't know what it is. These people give me hope; their lives tell so many important stories! If I can create half the beauty in my old age as they do and have done with their music, I'll consider myself successful and fulfilled, indeed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Stroke of Genius, Jan. 18 2004
By 
Cecil Fox (Little Rock, AR United States) - See all my reviews
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If you have never been to Cuba, this is a mildly amusing documentary about a chapter in the history of carribean music. If, however, you have walked through the neigborhood of Buena Vista on 70th Street in La Habana or watched the sun go down from the Malecón at the mouth of the Rio Almendares this film will make your mouth go dry and your eyes water. Vim Wenders and Ry Cooder, quite by accident discovered a cache of musicians who had played in the forties in a Cabaret called the Buena Vista Social Club that is now long gone. They have common characteristics, they are old, they were forgotten and they were and are incredibly gifted. Some have now died in their eighties and nineties. They were rescued and recorded in the nick of time. The film is apolitical and was shot digitally without apology. The CD from the sound track sold gozillions of copies and raised the export of Cuban music and musicians to be a world treasure. The type of music is called "son" and arose from the Danzon (the big dance) of the early part of the century. Played by three to six musician with uncomplicated instruments, you get to meet each of them individually. Collectively, son is "guajiro" or country boy music. The stars, including Compay Segundo, Eliades Ochoa and the charming Ibrahim Ferrar will become perpetually embedded in your memory. Until this country comes to its senses you will be deprived of the experience of this touching world, but until then you can enjoy it vicariously at the Buena Vista Social Club.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Horrible sound editing trivializes the experience, March 25 2002
By 
Phil Rogers (Ann Arbor, Michigan) - See all my reviews
Yes, I saw the movie. I had reveled in music like this on another compilation titled 'Cuba Classics: Dancing with the Enemy'. But the movie destroys the sense of how these musicians rhythmically mesh with and play off of each other.
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars High hopes after hearing CD, but movie disappoints..., July 23 2000
By A Customer
I am mystified by the reviews below - this is one of the worst documentaries I've ever seen!
Despite having access to all of the great musicians in the Buena Vista Social Club, WE LEARN NEXT TO NOTHING ABOUT THESE PEOPLE. In all honesty, I found out more about the musicians from the two page bios that were included on the "About the Musicians" section of the DVD, than I did from watching the movie.
Don't get me wrong, the music is great... but I have the CD! The great music was what caused me to buy this movie. I got the sense through the entire movie that it had been quickly thrown together to help sell more CD's.
I was hoping to find out more about the artists who made such beautiful music on the CD... What were their careers like? Who were their influences? What were the major events in their lives? How did Cuban culture influence them and their music? NO SUCH LUCK. We are treated to a short 2-3 min. synopsis of how each musician became a musician, and that's it - quick cut to a live performance of a song!
It's really tragic that the producers of this movie did not put as much effort into it as they did the CD (which is awesome). This could have been a really great documentary.
MY ADVICE TO PEOPLE WHO LIKED THE CD - IF YOU JUST WANT TO SEE SOME OF THE SONGS ON THE CD PERFORMED LIVE, THEN THIS IS FOR YOU, BUT IF YOU WANT TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE ARTISTS WHO MADE THE MUSIC, I WOULD THINK TWICE...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How could you think anything else?, Aug. 21 2003
By 
Darleen Thorig (San Diego, Ca United States) - See all my reviews
I was told to watch this DVD by my daughters who were captivated by this documentary of muscial talents. I was not sure I would, could, relate to their "tastes" in musical and artist splender, until I watched the DVD of "The Buena Vista Social Club". Such an amazing story, such brillant musical tallent; it's impossible to describe! You have to see it to "experience" the "Buena Vista Social Club".
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4.0 out of 5 stars Musically Solid, Jan. 25 2004
By 
R. J. Marsella (California) - See all my reviews
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The film captures the live peformance of the wonderful musicians that were featured on the CD. From this perspective it is well worth owning. The ability to see Compay Segundo and Eliades ochoa perform Chan Chan live ,for example, is incredible.
The documentary style and the scenes of streetlife in Havana are also very colorful and entertaining,
However I must agree with some of the other reviewers that there is something off about Ry Cooder. I respect him for bringing this wonderful music and these artists the recognition they deserve but his attititude on film does seem strange and his guitar playing does not fit with some of the tunes. At one point he is performing with Rueben Gonzalez , the great Cuban pianist, and he sounds so out of place. In fact Gonzalez looks up from the keyboard with a look on his face that seemed to me to be saying."what are you doing?"
I guess Cooder might have made the choice to let the music of Cuba speak for itself and just be content to film it but he chose instead to feature himself too frequently for my taste.
That aside , this is still a fine documentary and a must for anyone who enjoys latin music.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Halfway Between a Documentary and a Concert DVD, Nov. 9 2003
By 
I absolutely loved the Buena Vista Social Club album, but this DVD was not all that I had hoped for. It had a nice slow pace, but it became a bit boring at times. I don't feel like I really got to know the artists, although there are some nice moments (when they are exploring New York comes to mind), it is mostly abbreviated footage from concerts and recording sessions along with some brief interviews with the performers. It shows some very flavorful images of Cuba, but I couldn't help thinking about how much money Ry Cooder must have made off of these amazingly talented musicians! He seems very aloof in the parts that show him. My biggest disappointment: I was hoping for uncut footage of the concerts, but we only get two or three uncut songs. The "El Cuarto de Tula" concert at Carnegie hall that plays during the credits is fantastic, but this DVD needs either more documentary or more music! It is somewhere in between. Also, my favorite song "De Camino a la Vereda" is nowhere to be found in this DVD.
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4.0 out of 5 stars somewhat different, Nov. 6 2003
By 
Spyridon S. Zengos "ssz" (Athens Greece) - See all my reviews
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Watching a documentary one takes the view of who handles the wandering camera, and, at this time, this is more worthwhile than watching a studio manufactured dream- or nightmare- world.
We find a few old Cuban entertainers, retired singers, in the streets of Havana, at their homes, at rehearsal, performing in public...They have not performed for a long time, but they are ready to do it now. They speak some times plainly, other times as seasoned entertainers delighted to be at the centre of attention.
These are not stars, they are 'plain' singers, theirs faces beautiful with wrinkles. They have dignity, humanity, and a great sense of humour. They tell us their story, how they happened in this business, at a time when Cuba and its populace were mainly catering for all sorts of entertainment for the mainland Americans, before the revolution.
Buena Vista was an entertainment palace of that time, and we follow the camera through the streets of Havana, in search of that lost memory. The palace is long gone but some of the performers are there, and through their narrative, indirectly, we have a glimpse of what was lost and what was gained during that time.
At the final sequence, before a performance at Carnegie Hall, these magnificent old Thespians are allowed a stroll and shopping tour in the commercial streets on New York, and we see their wonderful amazement.
We feel their difference of attitude.
A rare gem, not to be missed!
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3.0 out of 5 stars Needed another director, Aug. 27 2003
By 
Daniel Fineberg (Northridge, California USA) - See all my reviews
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What exactly was on Wim Wenders' mind, I wonder, when he was shooting this movie? Was he trying to make a concert film? A documentary on forgotten Cuban musicians? A travelogue of Havana locales? Well, "Buena Vista Social Club" is all those movies wrapped in one, but only one problem--it's not long enough to carry them all. Maybe it was meant as an introduction to the music, so that if you liked it, you could seek it out on your own. Either way, it's really unfortunate that there isn't a single complete song anywhere in the movie, and sequences like the one with Ry Cooder and his son riding through Havana on a motorcycle cannot serve any purpose.
Another bone to pick--most DVDs these days come with hours upon hours of extras, usually useless crap scraped off the editing room floor. One would think, then, that the producers of this DVD would try to fill in the gaps and put in the complete concert and studio performances that were captured. More likely, they'll wait a while, then try to push a 2-DVD set, then a 3-DVD remastered collector's edition, then a 4-DVD...
On second though, just buy the CDs. All the music is there.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Calle 54, Where Are You?, June 18 2003
By 
Samuel Chell (Kenosha,, WI United States) - See all my reviews
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If there's any disappointment with "Buena Vista Social Club," it's that the film frequently gets in the way of its subject. We see enough of the Havana streets with their pre-Castro corroding American cars and of the dilapidated grand old architecture to want to see more. Are these images--a kind of "urban pastoral"--truly representative of the city, or have they been carefully selected for their ripe, romantic decadence? And we hear enough of the music to wish complete exposure if not immersion in its charms. How would it sound without interruptions--by either the intrusion of Wenders' hyperactive cinematic style or the musical presence of the Cooders (father and son)? But Wenders' perpetual-motion camera runs multiple gyres around each subject and edits at a equally frantic pace, obviously assuming the viewer would not sit still for a minute of music unenhanced by visual gymnastics (this must be the unsteadiest Sony "steadycam" ever to appear in a film). And if Cuba has indigenous guitarists and trap drummers, Cooder apparently was unable to locate them.
I came to this film after being captivated by the similar "Calle 54." This too is a film that frequently calls attention to itself through busy editing and frequent camera movement. The difference, however, is that "Calle 54" approaches each performance with a primary regard for the music itself. Each musical number is complete, and there is never any doubt that a first priority is to capture the sound of the music with the fullest fidelity possible. As a consequence, the music itself takes up residence in the spectator's consciousness, complemented but not replaced by the accompanying images. "Buena Vista Social Club" is more about the covering of an event (the release of the Grammy-winning recording and its aftermath) than the event itself. The musicians and their music deserved better.
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Music Makers: Buena Vista Social Club [Import]
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