on January 18, 2004
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.
on March 12, 2004
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.
on August 21, 2003
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".
on May 25, 2015
This was an international best seller as well as the cd of music. Guitarist Ry Cooder and his son went to Cuba to rediscover the talents of Cuba's musicians. This DVD also earned a Grammy Award. I loved the scenes of old Havana, many of the older musicians now forgotten were given their chance to shine once again. We are taken to an old studio to hear stories of the artists golden past. Each artist is highlighted and we are given a chance to hear their story and listen to their music. It is amazing that music goers embraced the artists and their music in concerts given in Amsterdam and at Carnegie Hall. Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez, Eliades Ochda, Omara Portondo among others were given their chance to shine in the concerts which gave them a chance to solo and be part of the music ensemble. Kudos to Ry Cooder and Wim Wenders, for this production. Praise to Obama who is doing his best to lift the embargo with Cuba. Hopefully tourists will once again travel to Cuba to enjoy celebrated Cuban musicians.
on September 3, 2012
A Remarkable documentary for all of the reasons stated by others. A touching tribute to now mostly deceased musicians/singers from Cuba's heyday - well it was a heyday of sorts for those whose fame came from their individual Social Clubs. During the popularity of such clubs, the people Cuba were segregated racially, socially and economically and the only way people of colour could get into upscale places, was as performer or as worker, for they could not attend as patrons. You see the piano virtuosity of Ruben Gonzalez, the sweetness and beauty of Ibrahim Ferrer's singing, the rakish Compay Segundo in his 40's era American car, and his stated wish to have more children at possibly 95? Omara Portuondo's duets with Ibrahim are touching as well as the many other musicians and singers too vast to mention, but what remarkable and touching examples of the human spirit under the worst conditions yet remaining so connected with their craft. Eventually they make it to the Carnegie Hall during which time they ride in a limosine, go to the observation tower of the Empire State Bldg., and walk around at night exclaiming how beautiful it all is, akin to children taking their first train ride. It is a priceless and tear-jerking experience that all who love music must see...it will change your life!
on January 25, 2004
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.
on November 9, 2003
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.
on November 6, 2003
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!
on August 27, 2003
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.
on June 18, 2003
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.