Check out Lee Weber's review of Criterion Collection's new high-definition digital transfer of Wim Wenders acclaimed documentary "Buena Vista Social Club".

The Review at a Glance:
(max score: 5 )

Audio/Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )


Studio and Year: Criterion - 1999
MPAA Rating: G
Feature Running Time: 105 minutes
Genre: Documentary, Music

Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: AVC (MPEG-4)
Video Aspect: 1.85:1
Resolution: 1080p/24

Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, English, Spanish
Starring: Ry Cooder, Compay Segundo, Eliades Ochoa, Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, Omara Portuondo
Directed by: Wim Wenders
Music by: Sigfredo Ariel (Mucial Consultant)
Written by: Nick Gold and Wim Wenders
Region Code: A

Blu-ray Disc release Date: April 18, 2017
"In Havana, music isn't a pastime, it's a way of life."

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From Criterion:
"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."

Buena Vista Social Club is an academy award nominated documentary from filmmaker Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas, Wings of Desire) about Country musician Ry Cooder's critically acclaimed musical project. Filmed with a analog camcorder, the on-screen image is almost a character in this documentary with its unique look and feel. Besides the films superlative music (performances are shot in NYC and Amsterdam), it is the attitude of the Cuban musicians that really sticks out. Grateful to be part of this project, through these masters of their instruments we glean a rare look into Cuba with their strongly apparent pride in their homeland. Havana is a gorgeous backdrop to this uplifting look into some musicians we might never have had the chance to experience. Thanks to Ry Cooder for putting a world spotlight on theses amazing men and musicians, making the Buena Vista Social Club a must watch for fans of music as well as well made documentaries.

Parental Guide: G

AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:REFERENCE= 92-100/EXCELLENT= 83-91/GOOD= 74-82/AVERAGE= 65-73/BELOW AVERAGE= under 65

**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**

Audio: 88
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
  • Dynamics: 
  • Low frequency effects:
  • Surround Sound presentation:
  • Clarity/Detail:
  • Dialogue Reproduction:
  • Low frequency extension * (non-rated element): NA
Video: 80
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
  • Resolution/Clarity:
  • Black Level/Shadow Detail:
  • Color Reproduction:
  • Fleshtones:
  • Compression:
Buena Vista Social Club comes to Blu-ray Disc from Criterion featuring 1.85:1 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 25.2 Mbps and DTS-HD 5.1 sound.

Criterion's transfer from a new HD restoration looks impressive for a camcorder sourced documentary. Don't expect the sharpest and most artifact free presentation, but enjoy the life-like colors and surprising depth of field that was milked out of this film. The audio is a step above with a nice stereo spread and classy use of surround channels. Percussion is articulate and dynamic, vocals rich and well mixed in this is over-all pleasing release from Criterion.

*Note - Our Audio/Video score takes some factors into consideration (like LFE and Surround Effects) that deter the over-all number a film this this will garner. In the world of older film and Criterion releases I would consider this as close to perfect as this source will allow.

Bonus Features:
  • Audio commentary from 1999 featuring director Wim Wenders
  • (HD) New interview with Wim Wenders
  • (HD) We Believe in Dreams, a new piece featuring never-before-seen outtakes from the rehearsals for the Buena Vista Social Club’s Amsterdam concerts
  • (HD) Interview from 1998 with musician Compay Segundo on his career and the Cuban music scene
  • (HD) Radio interviews from 2000 featuring musicians Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, Eliades Ochoa, Omara Portuondo, and others
  • (HD) Additional scenes
  • (HD) Trailer
  • An essay by author and geographer Joshua Jelly-Schapiro
Final Thoughts:

Criterion's 2017 release of Buena Vista Social Club was a nice surprise for me as I missed seeing this one when it was making waves back in 99'. Fans of the film will love its Audio/Video whitch seem to be as good as the lower-fi original source can get. Packed with extras, I strongly recommend fans of music and documentaries give this Criterion release a viewing.
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Lee Weber
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

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