Film-Forward Review: [CUBA: ISLAND OF MUSIC]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Dancers in CUBA: ISLAND OF MUSIC (Photo: Gary Keys Productions)

Directed by: Gary Keys.
Produced by: Gary Keys & Brendan Ward.
Director of Photography: Caesare Costanzo, et al.
Edited by: David Himmelstein & Dora Soltani.
Music: Orquesta Aragon, Los Zafiros, and Manolin el Medico de la Salsa, et al.
Released by: Gary Keys Productions.
Country of Origin: USA. 80 min. Not Rated.
With: Gary Keys, Chico O'Farrell & Billy Taylor.

In this lively and sensuous documentary with a stiff title, director Gary Keys asks on-camera: how can the supposedly repressed Cuban people have so much freedom in their music. “How can they play with such virtuosity? Is everyone a musical genius?” Keys is drawn to the country for the “most danceable music in the world” and the old American cars. Driving through Havana is like being in a time warp - 1950 models roam the streets, lined with crumbling colonial buildings, while the young people wear American brand name T-shirts. New York-based musicians Chico O’Farrell (who refuses to discuss Fidel Castro) and Billy Taylor explain the qualities of the island’s music: the emphasis on drums, the contrasting rhythms, and its African origins. The observations are far from penetrating. “The dance and music are intertwined,” according to Taylor. Unidentified Cuban women offer, “Music and love are one thing,” and “The music is a stimulant.” Throughout the interviews and music, footage includes scenes of Cuban life from the butcher shop to the beach: people, young and old, black and white, dancing to street bands; women in a cigar factory smoking stogies; as well as a private Santeria ceremony (the ASPCA won’t approve). The camera especially lingers on the backsides of the beautiful, voluptuous women. Cuba certainly captures the vitality of the island’s music. With images similar to Buena Vista Social Club, but with far less historical resonance, Cuba is both a travelogue and a celebration. KT
January 15, 2004



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