Ry Cooder and Wim Wenders have known each other for 20 years, and worked together on the feature films Paris Texas and The End of Violence. Cooder enthused Wenders with his experiences in Cuba, and wanted to record an album with veteran Ibrahim Ferrer, and all the musos who played on the Grammy winning Buena Vista Social Club album of 1997. This time Wenders a small film crew accompanied Cooder to Cuba, to record the members of that old club, musos who had started out playing in what is now a dilapidated old house in Havana, which once resounded to their fabulous music.
 

4.5
"It really got to me" - David Stratton.

Ry Cooder first came across a group of veteran Cuban musicians on a visit to Havana in 1970; in 1996, he returned to the city and persuaded them to cut an album for him, which he allowed Wenders to hear before it was released. The result was that when Cooder returned to Cuba to record a second album, Wenders came too, and filmed the recording session, plus interviews with the musicians, on video. This material has been cut together with concerts in Amsterdam and at Carnegie Hall in New York.

These elderly musos, many of them in their 80s or more, are a most wonderful group of people – outstanding are Compay Segundo who, at 90, still has a roguish twinkle in his eye, Ibraham Ferrer, the vocalist Cooder describes as "a Cuban Nat King Cole", pianist Ruben Gonzalez and star vocalist Omara Portuondo. The music they make together is sublime – individually, these old-timers, living in their cocooned world from which they venture out to the bright lights of capitalistic New York – are the most delightful company. A quite wonderful music documentary.

Margaret's comments: This is a documentary that is so nostalgic and so beautiful in all sorts of ways that you find it hard to criticise. But there is a point where you wonder where the point actually is. If it's with the music, then let it play. It is so frustrating to have the music interrupted by narration, by a cut to an anecdote. I loved the music, I loved the stories of the reconstituted members of the band, I loved the fact that they had the experience of a lifetime playing in Carnegie Hall. I also liked the fact that Ry Cooder had put all this energy and affection into tracking these people down for this glorious reunion. But somehow I didn't particularly like the way it was structured, I think with all this glorious material something slightly more satisfying and less frustrating could have emerged.

 

Watch 'Buena Vista Social Club'

Saturday 11 April, 8:30pm on NITV (now streaming at SBS On Demand)

G
Cuba, 1999
Genre: Music, Documentary
Language: English
Director: Wim Wenders
Featuring: Ry Cooder
What's it about?
In 1996, Ry Cooder gathered together some of the greatest names in the history of Cuban music to collaborate on what became the best selling album 'Buena Vista Social Club'. Inspired by these colourful characters and their extraordinary music, director Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas) film follows the musicians from Havana to Amsterdam and finally to Carnegie Hall in New York. 

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