Buena Vista Social Club (1999)

Directed by Wim Wenders
Written by Nick Gold

Like Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders is a German director that I had seen only one film before this marathon. In Wender’s case, it was a film that I found to be astounding, Wings of Desire. So here I am, rolling into his documentary work next, much like I did with Herzog, and as I said before, documentaries are horses of a different color. In this particular case, the subject matter is very close to my heart: music. The thing about music, for me at least, is that it is a universal language. True, songs are written and sung in native tongue, but the words that come are emoted from a different place, the music, and everyone can understand and enjoy music.

Wenders here is exploring the Cuban musical conglomerate designed by Ry Cooder, the Buena Vista Social Club. In 1997, Cooder produced an album featuring long forgotten Cuban musical legends and he created a sensation. But that is not accurate, they recreated a sensation, as these musicians are some of the best in the history of Cuban music, and this documentary proves that. The music, as foreign as it was to my ears, was also, well, music to my ears. It may be different and not what you hear on the radio all the time, but, believe it or not, what you hear on the radio is not necessarily the best and brightest music around the globe has to offer. Such is the music business, and such is why I love seeking out new, unique music, even if it comes from 90 year old Cubans by way of much underappreciated American guitar player Ry Cooder.

The filmmaking here seems to be reflective and hands off, which suits the material perfect. The thing I love most about music is its ability to express our most inner feelings, even in just one note. It does not have to be full of notes, or full of words, just a simple expression of human emotion, and Wenders mirrors that here with his directorial style. He paints a beautiful portrait of these great musicians by entering into their lives just enough and letting the setting, body language and music tell the rest. My experiences thus far with Wenders have been extremely positive, as I have found his to explore quiet, reflective subjects and themes. I look forward to seeing more of his films, and especially the much acclaimed Paris, Texas.

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