REVEL IN CUBAN MUSIC

Elma Cremin

Co-Founder at Followthethread
A long-time fixture of New York’s glittering social scene, Miami’s jai lai courts, and the interstate highway system’s “big rigs,” Elma Cremin has spent her life absorbing all things pop culture.Movies, cult tv shows, documentaries, art, fashion—you cut her and she’ll bleed out in the colors of an Andy Warhol Brillo Pad box. Finally, after years of working inside the system with such networks as Sundance, Trio, Fuse TV and Ovation, she went “ghost protocol” and co-founded FollowTheThread in order to work outside the petty restraints of the industry and share her remarkable knowledge.

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20 years ago the Buena Vista Social Club documentary and album were released to worldwide acclaim. Afro-Cuban music is still some of the most vibrant and infectiously rhythmic music in the world.

The Buena Vista Social Club is the story of a group of musicians who were trapped by history but who were also ultimately granted a reprieve, and as result revived a genre that was almost lost.

This week with the release of our friend Lucy Walker’s new film Buena Vista Social Club: Adios we celebrate the sounds and history of Cuban music.

buena2BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB: ADIOS (2017)

Lucy Walker (Wasteland and Crash Reel) brings us the sequel to Buena Vista Social Club which exposed the world to Cuba’s vibrant musical culture with a 1997 album and Wim Wenders’ documentary a couple years later. Now, against the backdrop of Cuba’s unique musical history, we hear the band’s story as they reflect on their remarkable careers and the extraordinary circumstances that brought them together.

Since the film’s release, many of the members of the Buena Vista Social Club – including Ibrahim Ferrer, Compay Segundo, Ruben Gonzalez and Orlando “Cachaíto” López – have died. But the sequel deftly and thoughtfully reflects on their legacy and efforts by surviving members Omara Portuondo, Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal and Barbarito Torres to keep the group’s music alive.

“The music and the culture of Cuba are very much intertwined. So as these artists share their music, they are also sharing their incredible history. We are able to experience the last hundred years of the country’s history through their eyes,” producer Zak Kilberg said in a statement.

Some of these musicians lived into their seventies and eighties – and nineties in Compay’s case – before finding the type of global success that came with Buena Vista Social Club. Despite that, there is an optimism in their story that is unique and powerful. The Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club’s final tour also brought the group to the White House. There they performed for Barack Obama – just a few months after America restored diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in 54 years.

“For nearly two decades, this group has been a symbol of the strong bonds between the Cuban and American people. Bonds of friendship, culture and of course music,” the president said at the time.

iTunes

buena-vista-social-clubBUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB (1999)

Wim Wenders’ film documents how eclectic guitarist and roots music advocate Ry Cooder brought together this ensemble of legendary Cuban musicians to record an album and to perform three times with a full line-up: twice in Amsterdam in April 1998 and at Carnegie Hall on the 1st of July.

Even though it’s just 110 miles from Florida, travel to Cuba was restricted for over fifty years following the Cuban Missile Crisis — so for the NYC concert many of the artists were setting foot in States for the first time. The film captures their reactions to this experience, plus footage of the sell-out concerts. It also includes interviews back in Cuba with each of the main performers.

The Oscar-nominated documentary includes appearances by Ry & Joaquim Cooder, Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzales, Eliades Ochoa, Omara Portuondo, Compay Segundo and many other renowned Cuban musicians.

iTunes   Amazon    Vudu

 

iNosotrosNOSOTROS LA MÚSICA (WE ARE THE MUSIC) (1964)

Cuban director Rogelio Paris’s documentary provides an incisive overview of the Cuban music scene before and after the Cuban revolution, 1940 – 1960 capturing the mood and vitality of Havana during its heyday.

Never before and never since has the diverse panorama of Cuban music been captured with quite as much style and cinematic flare. Filmed in the heady days of the 1960s, Nosotros la músicais is impregnated with the experimental spirit that put post-revolutionary Cuban cinema on the map. From the huge crumbling urban solares (apartment buildings) and callejones (alleys), to the flashy nightclubs, and finally to the rural jam sessions and church meetings of the island’s eastern mountains, director Paris goes deep into the soul of Cuban music and finds a stunning diversity often glossed over by foreign film crews.

The film, which has become a cult-like object of rediscovery, presents songs, popular music, and dances through a mix of Free Cinema and musical theater by an amazing range of locally and internationally famous performers of the time — Bola de Nieve, Celeste Mendoza, Elena Burke, Charanga Francesa, the Ignacio Piñeiro Septet, and various carnival troupes from Havana.

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swornSWORN TO THE DRUM: A TRIBUTE TO FRANCISCO AGUABELLA (1995)

Les Blank documented American roots music for nearly fifty years. With this film he captures the rhythms of Latin jazz as transmitted by Cuban born percussionist Francisco Aguabella, a master of the conga drum who recorded with Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and The Doors.

A revered figure in Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz drumming, Aguabella has been called “…a virtual Rosetta stone of African culture, who has been highly influential in the growth of Latin jazz, pop and fusion in the U.S.”

For Aguabeila, who migrated to the USA in 1957, drumming is an integral part of his santeria religion—he’s a master of the bata, a special ceremonial drum. Blank’s film explores Aguabella’s drumming styles, his religion, and features interviews with associates such as dance innovator Katherine Dunham and bassist ‘Cachao’ Lopez. But it’s the music itself that makes the most powerful case for Aguabella’s genius — and Blank’s film has plenty of it.

Amazon

dizzy

NIGHT IN HAVANA: DIZZY GILLESPIE IN CUBA (1989)
Focusing on one of the key figures in both bebop and Afro-Cuban jazz, this only film by director John Holland follows American jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie on a spring 1985 journey to forbidden island of the Caribbean. Gillespie defied US sanctions to travel to Cuba for a series of shows for the first time since Fidel Castro came to power, and perform at the fifth annual International Jazz Festival of Havana.

The film features a lot of performance with side men like Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, a Gillespie protégé who would eventually defect to the States. There are interviews, performance, and wonderful scenes of Gillespie mixing with crowds of eager locals and children.
In concert footage, the balloon-cheeked musician plays “A Night in Tunisia” and “Cubana Bop”, among other favorites. In interviews, the musician speaks about his past and the musical compositions which inspired him.

YouTube   Amazon

conCON TODO MI AMOR RITA / WITH ALL MY LOVE, RITA (2000)

Prolific Cuban documentary director Rebeca Chávez brings us this profile of the great Cuban singer and actress Rita Montaner (1900-1958). She achieved international fame as Rita de Cuba – but in her homeland she was known as “La Única (the one and only).”

A classically trained pianist and singer, and a natural actress, Montaner became an international star of theater, film, radio, and television, performing in New York with Xavier Cugat and Al Jolson, in Paris with Josephine Baker, but always returning to Cuba where she was an enduring radio and stage celebrity. The documentary humanizes her mythical stature through personal accounts, recreations, and visual documentation of her professional life.

WOMEN GONE WILD

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Kris

Can't decide what to watch?FollowTheThread.
Each week Elma and I give you 5 opinionated but culturally relevant choices, based on our experience of curating smart sticky stuff for Ovation, Trio, Bravo, A&E, Sundance, Fuse, and others.
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WOMEN GONE WILD

Even though the number of women directors and show runners is still small, the ones that do break through are continually amazing us. 

Especially when it comes to talking about sex.  Maybe male artists have had so many more centuries and opportunities to explore these issues onscreen that the male POV seems a bit stale, tame and cliched comparison. 

Maybe these female characters are so impactful  because women are finally getting a voice at this moment when gender is fluid and censorship is dead, giving them a lot more creative leeway.  And maybe women are just naturally more explicit when it comes time to time about sex and the rest of the world (men) are just now getting to hear that dialogue.  

Our picks this week are provoked by Jill Soloway’s hot, shocking and artful new Amazon series I Love Dick.  Be forewarned, this is a pretty Amazon-centric week.

 

I Love Dick
I LOVE DICK (2017)

 Kathryn Hahn plays Chris Kraus, a floundering NYC filmmaker who accompanies her husband Sylvere (Griffin Dunne) to his writing fellowship in Marfa, Texas.  There she becomes instantly, obsessively, erotically fixated on the cowboy artist who runs the place.  His name is Dick and he’s played by Kevin Bacon.

Hahn’s character is a bubbling mess, with no discernable shame or boundaries.  She immediately becomes known as “The Holocaust Wife” (Sylvere writes about the Holocaust) and starts frantically stalking Dick.

Meanwhile she records her obsession in a shameless series of letters, uses her erotic fantasies to rekindle the couple’s moribund sex life, and steals weed from the younger fellows.

I Love Dick is simultaneously arty, head-turning and erotic.  And, features a hell of a lot of anatomy, if you care about that kind of thing.

Trailer: YouTube   Series:  Amazon

 

Afternoon Delight
AFTERNOON DELIGHT (2013)

In the week before it dropped we were hearing a lot of noise about I Love Dick; and we’re also admirers of Transparent.  So we decided to go back and watch the feature film that brought Soloway into the spotlight.  There’s a marked family resemblance between this movie and Dick.

In the film Kathryn Hahn plays an LA stay-at-home mom who lives in a spectacular Silverlake home.  A wall of sexual apathy has halted marital relations with her app developer husband (Josh Radnor) and she’s desperate for something more stimulating than the momsters at the JCC preschool.

The couple goes to a strip joint with some adventurous friends and the husband buys her a lap dance with blonde pole rider McKenna (Juno Temple).  When something starts happening in her crotch, she freaks out.

But this is a Soloway character.  Within a few days she has stalked and befriended the stripper and installed McKenna in the spare bedroom under the pretext of saving her.

Things escalate from there – in ways that are both surprising and provocative — until the inevitable explosion.

Part of what’s remarkable is the lack of bourgeois moralizing and the extremes to which both Soloway and Hahn are willing to push the character as she reconnects with her lost libido.

 

hulu Vudu iTunes YouTube Amazon Google Play

 

Fleabag
FLEABAG (2016)

The next two picks are UK imports.

Fleabag is a comic tragedy in six terse episodes. Within the first five minutes of the first episode our heroine is talking intimately to us (the camera) as she describes what is happening to her just out of frame – taking it up the bum.

Our heroine is the owner of a failing tea shop in London which she started with her best friend, now deceased, who died a semi-suicide, leaving behind a pet guinea pig.  She tells her story with charm and black humor, enticing us along until we realize that both we and her have been waltzing into the toothy jaws of an emotional trap.

As writer/star Phoebe Waller-Bridge pointed out in a recent Q&A, throughout the series you don’t actually see much of anything;  and yet, because of the intimate soliloquys, it feels like one of the filthiest TV shows you’ve ever experienced.

At the beginning of the series, Fleabag is so blithe about her escapades that you feel like she just has a very healthy (if somewhat hyperactive) sex drive. But slowly you realize that her constant need for transgression (sex, lying,  thievery) are attempts to cover up a brutal secret that is threatening to destroy her.

Yet even though that secret is tangled up with sex, it is not about her sexuality per se, but about the tangled way that the guilt it expresses itself.

Amazon

 

 

 

CatastropheCATASTROPHE (2015-17)

Is this just the way of the world – in most of these shows about female sexuality, men, heterosexual men, tend to be pretty one-dimensional.  Just like in men’s stories, the opposite sex is a black box — we seldom get any idea of what is really going on with them, or why.

Which is why we love Catastrophe – it’s much more honest than any comparable American show, but it’s also about a couple and we get to see both sides of their story.

The show’s title comes from Zorba the Greek: “Wife, children, house, everything.  The whole catastrophe.”

The series is written and produced by the female star, Sharon Horgan (Sharon) and was co-created with American comic Rob Delaney (Rob).

The seminal catastrophe here is a wild, zipless, carnal week in London, after which Sharon comes up pregnant.  Even though they barely know each other, Rob steps up and moves to London, where they marry and have the baby.

It’s a comedy, like our other picks here, but what sets it apart is that the characters seem more like adults, meaning that they fuck up constantly but actually must and do take responsibility for it, which makes it less outrageous than these other shows, and maybe less revelatory.

But also more relatable. The show feels a couple degrees more honest than most about what it’s like to try and hold it together as a couple in today’s world.

Amazon

 

Tiny Furniture
TINY FURNITURE (2010)

Tiny Furniture is most interesting as Lina Dunham’s preparatory sketch for Girls.  The subject matter is essentially the same – smart, privileged, sexual young women who are so scared by their own power and options that they retreat into infantile behaviors to avoid responsibility for the questionable choices they make.

That may sound like we were not fans of Girls.  But we were.   It was surprising– not consistently but often enough that we kept coming back despite our frustrations with the characters’ lack of progress.

In Tiny Furniture, Dunham (her character’s name is Aura) comes back after college to live with her mother and sister (played by Dunham’s sister and mother, who actually photographs tiny houses).  Indulgence and chaos ensue.

The film won Best Narrative Feature at SXSW and won Dunham Best New Director at the Indie Spirit Awards.

Google Play iTunes YouTube Amazon

 

 

The Piano
THE PIANO (1993)

When Kevin Bacon’s Dick tells Kathryn Hahn’s Holocaust Wife that women can’t make good films because they’ve been oppressed for too long, she sputters out names: Sally Potter… Jane Campion…

Jane Campion’s signature film is an enchanting and powerful fable.  Campion seduces us into traveling with Holly Hunter’s mute piano player as she grows into possession of her sexuality and is severely punished for it.

There’s both a parallel and a disconnect between the muscular figure of Harvey Keitel and Kevin Bacon’s shirtless Dick.  Dick is a self-constructed sexual archetype, and even though the self-construction world, it makes him a figure of farce.  Keitel’s character is also an archetype,  but more authentic and thus more romantic, willing to prove he has enough integrity to earn a place in the heroine’s world.

This story, with its lack of irony, had to be set in an exotic past.  And that setting, enhanced by the hypnotic score, opened the movie up to a much wider audience than it could have reached in another form.

Jane Campion became the first and only woman to win the Palme d’Or, and The Piano won three Academy awards: Best Actress for Hunter, Best Supporting Actress for young Anna Paquin, and Best Original Screenplay for  Campion.

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