[Screen It]

 

"BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB"
(1999) (Ry Cooder, various Cuban musicians) (G)

Alcohol/
Drugs
Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Frightening/
Tense Scenes
Guns/
Weapons
Minor None None None Minor
Imitative
Behavior
Jump
Scenes
Music
(Scary/Tense)
Music
(Inappropriate)
Profanity
Minor None None Minor Minor
Sex/
Nudity
Smoking Tense Family
Scenes
Topics To
Talk About
Violence
Minor Moderate Minor Minor None


QUICK TAKE:
Documentary: Producer and guitarist Ry Cooder examines the lives of several legendary Cuban musicians during a recording session as well as concerts in Amsterdam and New York's Carnegie Hall.
PLOT:
Using interviews and footage from recording sessions and concerts in Amsterdam and New York City's Carnegie Hall, producer and musician Ry Cooder examines the lives of a group of legendary Cuban performers and musicians, including singers Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo, guitarist Compay Segundo, pianist Ruben Gonzalez and others.
WILL KIDS WANT TO SEE IT?
Unless they're into Cuban music or are interested in alternatives to popular music, it's highly unlikely.
WHY THE MPAA RATED IT: G
For apparently not containing any material that would warrant a higher rating.
CAST AS ROLE MODELS:
Other than for some cigar smoking/holding and two brief sexually related song lyrics, there's nothing here that would make these real people seem as bad role models (particularly since many of them are still active in older age and are all talented musicians).
CAST, CREW, & TECHNICAL INFO

HOW OTHERS RATED THIS MOVIE


OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Upon hearing the title, "Buena Vista Social Club" the more Hollywood savvy may think the film concerns an Orlando or L.A. based watering hole or dance hall where the likes of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and yes, even Michael Eisner hang out and the mere mention of Jeffrey Katzenberg will draw leers and/or have you kicked out on your keister.

No, the film has nothing to do with Disney, although several of the people appearing in it were probably already at work when Steamboat Willie first graced the silver screen back in the late 1920's. And for those who think that The Rolling Stones and other similar "over the hill" groups are too old to still be touring and performing, by the time Mick Jagger realized he wasn't getting any "satisfaction" behind his baby crib slats, some of the performers in this film were already starting into midlife crisis territory.

Yes, long before current heartthrob Ricky Martin or even Latino star Selena were making waves, a group of talented musicians were creating wonderful music along the shores and in the capital of pre-Castro Cuba. All but since forgotten, many of them, including the likes of singers Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo, guitarist Compay Segundo, pianist Ruben Gonzalez and several others were brought together in 1997 by acclaimed producer and musician Ry Cooder to record an album, "The Buena Vista Social Club."

As such, this film -- helmed by German director Wim Wenders who's best known stateside for his 1987 film, "Wings of Desire" (that inspired the Nic Cage/Meg Ryan pic, "City of Angels") -- is a returned favor to Cooder for composing the soundtracks for several of Wenders' films. It's also an example of minimalist documentary filmmaking.

Taking an approach that's something akin to what the multi-night documentary "The Beatles Anthology" did for that well-known group (as compared to the earlier, chronological, and narrator-driven "The Compleat Beatles"), this film allows the musicians and their music to tell their stories in an unencumbered manner. Considering the fun swing and salsa style music, that's not such a bad idea and we're treated to numerous pieces of performance and recording studio footage.

However, while such moments are entertaining to watch, this documentary as a whole leaves a bit to be desired. Before seeing it, my knowledge of Cuban music consisted mostly of having seen some recorded Desi Arnaz performances. After seeing it, that's still pretty much the case although I now at least know the names of a few legendary performers.

That's because unlike other documentaries, such as the "Behind The Music" series on cable TV channel, VH1, we're told very little about the musicians or their music. Although each performer is seen recollecting some moment from their past -- with several of the members receiving far greater focus than the others -- such informative moments are very brief. As such, we never really learn much about them or the history of Cuban music from past to present.

Since most of these performers were around in the pre-Castro days when Cuba was a glorious destination and vacation hot spot -- and now often looks like a third world country in the footage presented in this film -- the most obvious question of how Castro's regime affected and/or still affects the musicians and their music -- is never approached.

Beyond that, the film has the typical documentary look -- courtesy of cinematographer Jörg Widmer -- with different film stock being used and the camera work ranging from motion- sickness inducing shakiness to fluid Steadicam work that beautifully floats around the musicians during a recording session.

The film does have some fun moments including one where one of the performers briefly mentions Che Guevara playing golf with Fidel Castro -- and obviously allowing the latter to win -- as well as a window-shopping spree in New York where the musicians -- many of whom had never been to the United States -- try to identify pictures and/or cutouts of various famous Americans and see the city as a beautiful thing.

It's that trip to the Big Apple and the subsequent performance in Carnegie Hall -- the Valhalla for musicians -- where the film is the most satisfying. Performing to an enthusiastic, sold out audience, these hardworking, longstanding performers finally get their due recognition and the effect is quite pleasing.

As such, one can't help but smile along with seventy-something singer Ibrahim Ferrer as he accepts a standing ovation, finally receiving some well and long-deserved recognition outside his native country. The moment is heartwarming, and fans of these performers and Cuban music overall will most likely heartily enjoy the entire proceedings.

For the rest of us, this documentary is certainly easy enough to sit through, features some entertaining music, and may have audiences leaving with a better appreciation of it. One only wishes, however, that as a documentary -- of which many will argue the true cinematic definition -- that it taught us more about these performers and their music, particularly considering their longevity before and after Castro took over Cuba. Fun, but in our opinion not particularly life changing or properly educational, "Buena Vista Social Club" rates as a 6 out of 10 on our musical scale.

OUR WORD TO PARENTS:
The following is a brief summary of the content found in this G-rated documentary about legendary Cuban musicians and performers. Beyond a few minor, sexually-related comments in song lyrics, some performers holding or smoking cigars, the brief sight and mentioning of liquor and one minor profanity, most of the film's categories have little or nothing in the way of major objectionable content.

ALCOHOL OR DRUG USE
  • A performer shows a little shrine in his house and points out a small glass of rum he's left for the figure on it, stating that since he likes rum, he assumes the figure does as well.
  • A performer mentions that he's giving up drinking.
  • As a performer talks while sitting at an empty bar, bottles of liquor are seen on the wall behind him.
  • BLOOD/GORE
  • None.
  • DISRESPECTFUL/BAD ATTITUDE
  • None.
  • FRIGHTENING SCENES
  • None.
  • GUNS/WEAPONS
  • In a Cuba-related photo book we see a picture of a soldier/rebel carrying a machine gun/rifle.
  • Some students thrust their fencing swords.
  • Two performers comment on the pistol seen in a cardboard cutout of John Wayne dressed as a cowboy.
  • IMITATIVE BEHAVIOR
  • Phrases: "Shut up."
  • JUMP SCENES
  • None.
  • MUSIC (SCARY/TENSE)
  • None.
  • MUSIC (INAPPROPRIATE)
  • A song lyric --written in English subtitles -- briefly mentions when a woman "shook" a man was "aroused" while another states that when "a woman bends over...it makes you understand" (or something to that effect).
  • PROFANITY
  • 1 damn (in English subtitles).
  • SEX/NUDITY
  • A song lyric --written in English subtitles -- briefly mentions when a woman "shook" a man was "aroused" while another lyric states that when "a woman bends over," it makes you understand (or something to that effect).
  • An older woman walking with a musician shows some cleavage.
  • An older performer comments on "a night of romance" and then says that he has five children and jokingly adds that he's "working on the sixth."
  • SMOKING
  • Several performers either smoke or hold cigars at times, as do miscellaneous people (such as a woman on the street with a humongous cigar). Others also smoke cigarettes.
  • One of the older musicians talks about having to light cigars for his grandmother and then comments that one could say he's been smoking for eighty-five years because of that.
  • We see workers rolling cigars in a production facility.
  • A performer mentions that he's giving up smoking.
  • TENSE FAMILY SCENES
  • A few performers talk about their parents having died in the past.
  • TOPICS TO TALK ABOUT
  • The effects that Castro-led communism may have had on the musicians and their music (something that's not addressed by the film).
  • That these musicians have continued to perform -- successfully -- for decades.
  • VIOLENCE
  • None.



  • Reviewed June 7, 1999 / Posted June 18, 1999

    Other new and recent reviews include:

    [American Made] [Battle of the Sexes] [Flatliners] [A Question of Faith] [Stronger]

    Privacy Statement and Terms of Use and Disclaimer
    By entering this site you acknowledge to having read and agreed to the above conditions.

    All Rights Reserved,
    ©1996-2017 Screen It, Inc.