Behind the Film: Buena Vista Social Club

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Behind the Film: Buena Vista Social Club

The original Buena Vista Social Club was a hothouse for talented Cuban muscicians. No one remembers exactly where in 1949 Havana the club once stood, but the passionate music from this famed venue reaches out of the past in the documentary bearing the club's name.

Guitarist Ry Cooder gathered roughly a dozen legendary Cuban musicians in 1996 to record an album also titled "Buena Vista Social Club." Cooder fell in love with the vibrant Cuban culture and pased along a rough casette mix to filmmaker Wim Wenders. "What came across for me when I heard the record for the first time with no idea yet of who these people were, was a feeling of lightness, of sheer joy and carefree abandon," Wenders said in a press release provided by Artisan Entertainment. "And there was also a deeply felt sense of experience and honesty about it, like no other music I knew."

Wenders was hooked: Cooder "told me all these incredible stories, and brought books and photographs. So finally I said to him, 'Let me know when you go again and I can come with you.'"

Two years later, when Cooder returned to Havana to record Cuban vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer's solo album, Wenders followed.

From that point, the film "Buena Vista Social Club," which Wenders calls a "musicumentary," unfolds in a manner parallel to the story behind the musicians--with peaks and lulls.

Pre-Fidel Castro era, these musicians lived music that was dynamic and smokey, sexy and refined. Then it all stopped. Without a scene or an audience, many of the musicians faded into obscurity.

"Buena Vista Social Club" brings their music back to life with German producer Wenders' stylistic vision-other Wenders films include "Wings of Desire," "The End of Violence," and "Paris, Texas."

It wasn't an easy task finding the aged legends, let alone compelling them to take up their instruments.

It's rumored that pianist Ruben Gonzalez suffered from severe arthritis and couldn't bear to touch the keys. Compay Segundo, born Francisco Repilado, was 89 years old during the recording sessions, but his voice still resonates. His nickname fuses the Cuban slang for "compadre," or friend, and "segundo" for his second voice--his lush base vocals. When Juan de Marcos Gonzalez, one of the other driving forces behind "Buena Vista," found Ferrer, he had been living in a dilapidated house in Old Havana, occasionally shining shoes for money.

The "super abuelos," or super grandads, came together in an extraordinary line up that includes a lone female, Omara Portuondo, who has been called the Edith Paif of Cuba. The film follows the musicians in the spiritual journey from being forgotten souls to performing in what has become a famous concert in Amsterdam, to holding center stage in New York City's famed Carnegie Hall.

"I wouldn't separate their lives and their history from the music itself," Wenders says. "Their music is so emotional and rich and so full of their life storiees that you just cannot divide it up."

Those who missed the first Korean screening of "Buena Vista Social Club" at Chunjoo International Film Festival have another chance to see it starting November at the Art & Film Theater (Yaesul Younghwa Junyongkwon), and again in February 2001 at LG Art Center.

by Joe Yong-hee

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