Film: Buena Vista Social Club

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Film:

Buena Vista Social Club

Director: Wim Wenders
Honors:
Genres:
Distributor: Live / Artisan

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…

Reviews

Amazon.com

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. Wenders makes his presence practically invisible, as if his directorial flourishes or off-screen narration might deflect attention from the artists, who do a fine job of telling their own stories through interviews and music. 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

Barnes and Noble

In the skillful hands of visionary director Wim Wenders (Wings Of Desire), this touching documentary about the Cuban musical phenomenon known as the Buena Vista Social Club becomes a moving meditation on the passage of time. Wenders brings an impressive restraint to his telling of this rags-to-riches story, a simple tale enhanced by the gorgeously muted scenery of Havana’s romantic ruin and its glorious music. Two events frame the Buena Vista Social Club’s rise from obscurity to senior-citizen superstardom—club master of ceremonies Ry Cooder’s return to Havana in 1998 to record vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer’s solo album and the gang’s heart-stopping performance at Carnegie Hall. We see the physical decay of the men and their city as we hear, through lively interviews with nearly every member of the large ensemble, about the glory of Cuba and her musicians of a half century before, when mambo and son filled hotel salons and casino ballrooms. But when these aged masters burst into song—Compay Segundo’s baritone ringing out, Rúben González’s rich piano soloing, Omara Portuondo’s tearful dueting with Ferrer on “Dos Gardenias”—music erases the ravages of time, old men become animated as children, and a forgotten world lives again, glowing around the edges like a dream. Mark Schwartz

Related Works

Album:Buena Vista Social Club

Buena Vista Social Club

Ry Cooder, Various Artists

Ry Cooder’s name has helped bring attention to this session, but it’s the veteran Cuban son musicians who make this album really special. Reminiscent of Ellington in its scope and sense of hushed romanticism, Buena Vista Social Club is that rare meld of quietude and intensity; while the players sound laid-back, they’re putting forth very alive music, a reminder that aging doesn’t mean taking to bed. Barbarito Torres’s laoud solo on “El Cuarto de Tula” is both more blinding and more tasteful than any guitar showcase on any recent rock album; a…

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