#866 Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
1999 // US, Cuba, France, Germany, UK // Wim Wenders
Criterion Collection (LINK)
I like listening to music, most of the time they are pop songs, seldom would I have the initiation to explore the different kinds music or their origins, so I’m definitely not a musical guy. It’s a shame that I do not share as much enthusiasm on music as my fanaticism on films, but music has always been the most effective and readily available comfort in my life, it’s conflicting to say I can live without films but not without music. As a result, it’s an embarrassing situation for me to watch a musical documentary, let alone writing about it. Should I like or dislike a film solely by how much I love the featuring music which is nonetheless highly objective and biased due to my limited exposure and taste in that field?
If that’s so, Buena Vista Social Club is a great compilation of Latin/Cuban musics and by that the film is a successful account of the once-forgotten music and the respective musicians. I immediately download the album of the same title (legally of course) once the film ended and have been looping it since then. But I still find myself being unfamiliar with who the musicians are and not fully realising how great they are in reality. The album, put together by the American musician Ry Cooder and headlined by the forgotten, golden-voiced Cuban singer Ibrahim Ferrer, won a Grammy Award in 1997 which prompted the birth of this documentary two years later. There are interviewing footage of the various musicians involved, in which they recall their past and their personal journey of music discovery. Each is given an adequate amount of time of introduction in which guys like me, completely ignorant of Cuban music, are able to generate an idea of who they are, yet not long enough for us to familiarize with the nature of their music, or how the political landscape of Cuba obscuring their artistic pursuit in the past.
Camera has often been circling the musicians when they are still, or tracking them along the street while strolling and singing. There’s a dynamicism found in the camera just like what I find in the music, they are infuriated with passion. The concert footage in Amsterdam or at the Carnegie Hall is nonetheless the highlight of the entire film, if not for the repeated interruptions to another location (sightseeing at the Empire State Building or chatting along street of New York), I believe I could completely immerse myself solely by the songs. Renowned film critic Roger Ebert once proclaimed the repeated focus of the camera on Ry Cooder is like a product placement. I’ve not exactly been bothered by it, but I would rather the film pays more attention and screening time in establishing how the group of aged, long-forgotten musicians were gathered and subsequently reformed the Buena Vista Social Club, named after the joint they once regularly performed. There’s so much story to tell but the film only fulfilled in uncovering part of them. I expect and eager for more, not only the music but the human factors as well.