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Calle 54Spain/France/Italy 2001
Directed by Fernando Trueba
Running time 109 minutes
It is convention to cite The Buena Vista Social Club as a point of comparison with this documentary but that is somewhat misleading. True, both deal with Latino musical culture, but whereas the former was part musicological foray, part guided tour, Calle 54 is focussed exclusively not only on more contemporary performers, but specifically the nexus between Latin music and that distinctively New York phenomenon, jazz. Whereas the former explored the laid-back style of the Cuban son as performed, in the main, by a group of genial superannuants, the latter is a showcase of some of the finest Latin jazz players in the world. It’s the difference between a vintage car fair and a Formula 1 event.
Not only are the musical performances of the highest calibre, ranging from solo piano to big band, Trueba’s approach is to concentrate completely on the music. Each number is introduced with minimal contextualisation, following each other virtually back-to-back. This departs from the usual approach to music documentaries, Buena Vista included, which tends to intersperse performances with more discursive aspects. This makes for an intense, if somewhat exhausting, 93 minutes. Whilst those familiar with the performers will no doubt appreciate this more deeply, for the novice Trueba's film provides an exciting primer into some remarkably sophisticated music and will probably initiate a trip to a specialty music store to seek out more.
My only quibble is who decided to subtitle place names?