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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r


H D - S E N S E I

A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Buena Vista Social Club [Blu-ray]


(Wim Wenders, 1999)



Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industrias Cinematográficos (ICAIC)

Video: Criterion Collection Spine #866



Region: 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:45:21.690 

Disc Size: 43,224,187,307 bytes

Feature Size: 27,220,439,040 bytes

Video Bitrate: 28.50 Mbps

Chapters: 20

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: April 18th, 2017



Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



DTS-HD Master Audio Spanish 3917 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3917 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)

Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps



English, English (SDH), none


Audio commentary from 1999 featuring director Wim Wenders
New interview with Wenders (26:15)
Interview from 1998 with musician Compay Segundo on his career and the world of Cuban music (59:50)
12 Radio interviews from 2000 featuring musicians Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, Eliades Ochoa, Omara Portuondo, and others
Four Additional scenes (5:54, 3:10, 7:06, 6:19)
Trailer (1:34)
PLUS: An essay by author and geographer Joshua Jelly-Schapiro






Description: Traveling from the streets of Havana to the stage of Carnegie Hall, this revelatory documentary captures a forgotten generation of Cuba’s brightest musical talents as they enjoy an unexpected encounter with world fame. The veteran vocalists and instru­mentalists collaborated with American guitarist and roots-music champion Ry Cooder to form the Buena Vista Social Club, playing a jazz-inflected mix of cha-cha, mambo, bolero, and other traditional Latin American styles, and recording an album that won a Grammy and made them an international phenomenon. In the wake of this success, director Wim Wenders filmed the ensemble’s members—including golden-voiced Ibrahim Ferrer and piano virtuoso Rubén González—in a series of illuminating interviews and live performances. The result is one of the most beloved documentaries of the 1990s, and an infectious ode to a neglected corner of Cuba’s prerevolutionary heritage.



The Film:

The most incandescent moment in Wim Wenders's exhilarating documentary portrait of the Cuban ensemble Buena Vista Social Club is a concert performance of the song ''El Cuarto de Tula'' filmed last July at Carnegie Hall. Sung by the band's septuagenarian lead singer, Ibrahim Ferrer, who is described as a Cuban Nat (King) Cole, the song is a sexy musical fire alarm alerting the world to a blaze in the bedroom of a woman who forgot to blow out a candle before falling asleep.

Shouted fervently by Mr. Ferrer, who bears a marked resemblance to Nelson Mandela, the song is more than a scintillating erotic metaphor; it is an impassioned assertion of an unquenchable lust for life. The performance is one of many stirring moments in ''Buena Vista Social Club,'' a documentary that mixes music with impressionistic glimpses of urban life in contemporary Cuba. Filmed in Amsterdam and New York, the concert scenes find the stage awash in such intense joy, camaraderie and nationalist pride that you become convinced that making music is a key to longevity and spiritual well-being.


Excerpt from NYTimes located HERE

Hard to credit that Wenders can still come up with a film that people actually want to see, but this project (handed to him on a plate by Ry Cooder) is a blinder. It documents the second phase in Cooder's reactivation of a group of elderly soneros musicians in Cuba: a trip to Havana in early 1998 to record with the amazing Ibrahim Ferrer, which prompts a reunion of the musicians who'd worked with Cooder on the original 'Buena Vista Social Club' album and leads to SRO concerts in Amsterdam and New York. The film-making is workmanlike and never gets in the way of the pleasure of seeing these incredible oldsters getting the standing ovations they've deserved all their lives.

Excerpt from TimeOut located HERE


Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Buena Vista Social Club was shot back in 1998 with a Sony Betacam Camera. It has arrived on Blu-ray from Criterion and is cited as a "New high-definition digital transfer, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack".  The older DVDs all showed combing - not from an interlaced transfer but it showed up even progressively encoded. There was also plenty of Chroma - most prominent on the Artisan SD transfer. Criterion have removed most of those artifacts in their 1080P, but they can't be totally erased as they are part of the original production. Digibeta is interlaced but can't shoot and edit progressive scan unless the camera supports it. You can see if you zoom in these less-stellar parts of the visuals that the edges of objects and people, especially from a distance - every 3rd frame, have 'jaggies' and are not as smooth and uniform as 35mm or modern HD would export.  This would be totally in-line with the original presentation which has post-production editing done on video and even when transferred to 35mm - those anomalies remained. The film was shown in 1.85:1 but both DVDs were 1.74:1 and the Criterion Blu-ray is 1.78:1 losing a slight amount of information on all 4 edges.  This is dual-layered , with a supportive bitrate, and in our comparison stills below you can see the improvement of the HD. It has softened the colors making them tighter and more realistic. It looks significantly better in the higher resolution when in-motion. Imperfect but blame the production not this Blu-ray which looks far better than any digital representation that I've ever seen on Buena Vista Social Club.




1) Eurovideo (Germany) - Region 2 - PAL
2) Artisan (USA) - Region 1 - NTSC

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray



1) Eurovideo (Germany) - Region 2 - PAL
2) Artisan (USA) - Region 1 - NTSC

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray



1) Eurovideo (Germany) - Region 2 - PAL
2) Artisan (USA) - Region 1 - NTSC

3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

















Audio :

Criterion use a DTS-HD Master 5.1 surround track at 3917 kbps (24-bit) in the original Spanish, and some English, language. The track does separate effectively even done post-production but I found the depth so rich, real and earthy - outdoing the video! The film is about the music and some of the sweet sounds of pieces played like Chan Chan, Silencio (by Eliada Ochoa), Chattanooga Choo Choo, Dos Gardenias, Veinte Ańos, El Carretero, Black Bottom and others. It's worth the piece of the package alone. There are optional English, or English (SDH), subtitles and my Oppo has identified it as being a region 'A' disc.


Extras :

Criterion add value with an audio commentary from 1999 featuring director Wim Wenders found on the older DVDs. He covers making of the film, editing and his general outlook and reason to film it the way it was done. Plus there is a new, 25-minute, interview with the director and an hour long interview from 1998 with musician Compay Segundo on his career and the world of Cuban music and twelve radio interviews from 2000 featuring musicians Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, Eliades Ochoa, Omara Portuondo, and others. There are four additional scenes (2 songs, an interview and looking at photos) running over 20-minutes in total and a trailer. The package has a liner notes booklet with an essay by author and geographer Joshua Jelly-Schapiro.



Buena Vista Social Club is a now iconic documentary and covers even more than the music by exposing the cultural history and heritage of Havana, the people and more. It's all very positive and filled with joy. I have enjoyed it every time I see it. This Blu-ray package should appeal to more than those who cherish the music - it's often a triumph of the human sprit full of warm, talented, individuals doing what they love. Very strongly recommended!

Gary Tooze

March 11th, 2017


About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

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Gary W. Tooze






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