Buena Vista Social Club
7/10 (Roger Ebert said it best)
Among all of the popular adulation for this film, I think Roger Ebert was the only major critic who remained objective and graded this as a pure film. As I was trying to organize my thoughts, I came across his review and realized that there’s no way I could say it better than him. Thus my thoughts briefly:
While Ry Cooder deserves a boatload of credit for bringing these ancient Cuban musicians to a wider audience, he does not deserve as much screentime as he gets in this movie. He comes across as rather smug and arrogant, like everyone should be grovelling on their knees in praise and thanks. It also bothered me that he doesn’t even attempt to speak Spanish after spending literally weeks (or maybe even months) in Cuba.
The movie, at 100 minutes, is short, but it felt long because it was so formulaic. They begin playing a song, then there’s a cut to one of the musicians playing alone in a beautiful but dilapidated old building, while the camera slowly rotates around them, and then the musician tells his story. Move on to next musician. It actually gets pretty obnoxious once you notice it happening about halfway through.
Another interesting criticism I heard was from a music historian that had spent extensive time in Cuba. He claimed that there are hundreds of musicians in Cuba that are at least as talented/famous as the ones that Cooder “discovered,” but they’ll never achieve anything of note because they didn’t get the Cooder stamp of approval. Now I don’t know if this is true, but it certainly raises some interesting questions. How arbitrary was Cooder´s selection process, and how much research did he put into these “discoveries”? How much credit should he really get for “discovering” these people in the first place? What will happen to the other deserving musicians that didn’t have the good fortune to run across Cooder´s path?
That said, the movie is worth seeing for the music alone, and for the chance to witness such legends as Ibrahim Ferrer and Compay Segundo on film. If you don’t get around to the movie though, the soundtrack will suffice.
20 March 2010