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    The Buena Vista Social Club
    Film Review - Margaret - 25/8/00

    I went to this film expecting to see an interesting documentary and hear good music. What I experienced was so much more! If you feel depressed by all the doom and gloom fed to us by the news media and want your spirits lifted don't miss this film.

    How did the music of the Buena Vista Social Club spread world wide?
    In 1995 guitarist Ry Cooder travelled to Havana to find some of the country's traditional music and record it. He re-discovered forgotten Cuban musicians of extraordinary talent. He called the album "The Buena Vista Social Club" after a place where many musicians used to gather to play in the days before the Castro regime in Cuba. This album has sold more than a million copies worldwide and in 1998 it won the Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin Album.

    Who are the musicians?
    Ibrahim Ferrer had been singing professionally in Cuba since 1941. Re-discovered at age seventy he sang with the same vibrancy that had won him success earlier, but this didn't happen instantly. He had been shining shoes and was reluctant to return to singing. Once he made a tentative beginning the music flowed with ever-increasing joy.

    Ruben Gonzalez at seventy seven plays the piano with such superb skill that Ry Cooder described him as "the greatest piano soloist I have ever heard in my life". He too was reluctant at first, but was persuaded to return to his music.

    Compay Segundo is the lead guitarist who at age ninety is full of youthful vigour - so much that he declares that at ninety he wants to father his sixth child!

    Omara Portuondo is the only woman in the group. She is sixty eight and in the heyday of her singing career she worked with Nat King Cole.

    Eleven other musicians were deeply involved in the production of the music.

    Forget their ages and listen to the music and you hear it as the outpouring of youthful zeal for life and music. Their ages then seem to come as an astounding revelation. Their performances are all the more extraordinary when you consider that they had become disillusioned and had to be persuaded to perform again.

    Wim Wenders persuaded to film the successful group
    Two years after the recording of the album Ry Cooder persuaded the successful film producer Wim Wenders to go with him to Cuba and film the story of the musicians. And that is what resulted, not just a film of people playing wonderful music, but performances interwoven with a presentation of the lives and interaction of the musicians themselves.

    Hearing their personal stories made the filming of their faces as they played all the more moving - such an outpouring of joy from people who had been so disillusioned. Those musicians with joy on their faces included Ry Cooder as he played with the group, showing total absorption in the seemingly miraculous experience he had been able to mastermind.

    The setting in Cuba is filmed in some detail, and the episode where Ry Cooder is out on the motorbike is used to introduce scenes which portray an environment which I can best describe as a city with buildings not maintained in many cases since the first half of the twentieth century but left to deteriorate slowly from their earlier prosperous image. It is against this backdrop of disillusionment and decay that the musical miracle takes place.

    The film ends with moving scenes that create a memorable climax - the concert in Carnegie Hall in New York, the standing ovations and the tumultuous applause from the audience.

    The extraordinary renaissance of the musicians' performance skills will surely make those who see this film believe that there can be hope even where it seems that the days of happiness are long since passed away.

    Published with permission from NZine