Top critical review
14 people found this helpful
3 stars for the doc film - the music is another matter.
on 5 January 2006
The music on this dvd is magic, with the proviso that I really think Ry Cooder should have stayed in the control room/off-stage and out of the mix. Slide guitar has no place in this music. It's very puzzling to me that Cooder failed to see that. Perhaps Wenders's comment that Cooder "kept to the back row" in the concerts and was way back in the sound mix indicates that a couple of years after the audio disc was released, Cooder himself had come to that conclusion.
The fact that there are two films in one by being able to turn on or off Wenders's commentary makes the most of what's on the disc. With commentary on, the background to what you see is fully described, with Wenders's commentary non-stop throughout.
With his commentary off, you see a different film - an enjoyable introduction to the marvellous characters that make up the group and the concert sequences, which succeed in bringing out the sheer pleasure they had playing together. This aspect - and the actual music itself - is pure feel-good and can be guaranteed to raise your spirits.
However, I agree with those who note that there is much that the film could have explored that simply isn't covered. Did the B.V.S.C. ever really exist? The film suggests that it may have but none of the musicians are filmed describing it or whether they played there - or not. Compay Segundo is seen tooling round in a drop-top, clutching a large cigar and asking a few locals who all point in different directions. He himself seemed not to know. His main contribution in this sequence is giving his recipe for chicken soup hangover cure to a couple of other oldsters.
Cooder's access to Cuba, especially on his first trip in the '70s, is covered by his line, "I went down there by boat with my wife." Behind this statement is a very intriguing story but we are never told it. The same goes for his subsequent trips and what must have been the moving of mountains to get the Carnegie Hall concert on. The only reference to how they came to play there is Cooder's reference to " a lot of hard work by a lot of people."
Cooder was fined a 6-figure $ sum for going to Cuba but this is not mentioned. These guys, despite being harmless o.a.p.s, were citizens of an enemy state of the USA. A sequence well worth including would have been interviews with whoever at the State Department swung it for Cooder & Wenders, why and how they did that. Did it go right to the top? Surely so: how did they keep Clinton off-stage, clutching his sax? Maybe there's a connection here with his supply of cigars ....
So, an entertaining film featuring wonderful music and lovable characters but as a documentary, full of holes.