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BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ry Cooder, Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez, Eliades Ochoa, Omara Portuondo, Compay Segundo
Director: Wim Wenders
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 105 Minutes
Release Date: April 18, 2017

Film ***1/2

It would seem out of the ordinary for such a filmmaker like Wim Wenders to veer off course from his visionary film resume and do a documentary about a Cuban jazz band. But in 1999, such a film surfaced in the form of Buena Vista Social Club. I had absolutely no knowledge of this band, but because of Wenders’ involvement and my recent developing hunger for all things documentary, I was intrigued instantly.

Wenders wisely captures not only live performances of the band, but intimate segments with each individual member. The Latin American instrumentalists and vocalists joined forces with American guitarist/film composer Ry Cooder to form the band in 1996. They would go on to become a worldwide sensation, in addition to winning a Grammy award.

You don’t hear quite often of bands starting on the streets of Havana and ending up at the likes of Carnegie Hall, but these musicians did just that. Just the very notion of a band delivering an original blend of mambo, cha-cha and bolero is fascinating. Even though this documentary was made nearly 20 years ago, Wenders’ film remains as important as ever in revealing to this generation a forgotten musical art form.

The blending of the live performances with the musicians telling their life stories make for a one of a kind documentary experience. Buena Vista Social Club beautifully captures a unique musical phenomenon that deserves to be rediscovered. Music and documentary fans alike owe it to themselves to check this one out!

Video ***

Even though this was my first time seeing this film, I’m well aware of the source materials used in filming it. Shot with both a MiniDv and a Digital Betacam, the end results won’t exactly add up to a reference looking presentation. But at the same time, Criterion does deliver their absolute best with this Blu-ray presentation, which is definitely saying something. The concert performances are especially superb standout moments, and the authentic capturing of the Havana streets does appear in most awesome form.

Audio ****

Any concert film is bound to shine on Blu-ray, especially when it’s by way of Criterion! And rest assured that the music numbers are pure showstoppers throughout this presentation. The DTS HD mix captures the music beautifully from beginning to end. Added to this, the dialogue segments play off terrifically. It’s a presentation that will indeed create a “you are there” feeling!

Features ***1/2

 

On this Criterion Blu-ray release, we get a commentary from 1999 featuring director Wim Wenders, as well as a new interview with Wenders. There’s also “We Believe in Dreams”, a new piece featuring never before seen outtakes from the rehearsals for the band’s Amsterdam concerts. There’s also an interview from 1998 with musician Compay Segundo on his career and the Cuban music scene, as well as radio interviews from 2000 featuring musicians Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, Eliades Ochoa, Omara Portuondo, and others, additional scenes and a Trailer. Rounding out the extras is an insert featuring an essay by author and geographer Joshua Jelly-Schapiro.

 

Summary:

Buena Vista Social Club is a most invigorating concert documentary that captures a rare music phenomenon that demands to be revisited. Wim Wenders does a remarkable job in chronicling a unique group of musicians coming together and creating something most special! The Blu-ray from Criterion brings this awesome music to vivid life!

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