Appellate Judge James A. Stewart doesn't get up and dance, but he does tap his toes.
"The people seem to have a very strong will that no matter what comes, they will survive…and that manifests itself in the music."
Gary Keys went to Cuba not just as a filmmaker, but as a representative of Columbia University, teaching a masterclass. The director came back with Cuba: Island of Music, a souvenir he could share.
The movie delivers on the title, showing all aspects of Cuban music and dance, from Afro-Cuban jazz performers to Chinese musicians in Havana to bolero in a nightclub, and the joyous reactions of spectators. Young musicians learning to play also get a few minutes in the spotlight. Interspersed with these scenes, there are glimpses of Cuban life, such as players standing for the national anthem at a baseball game, socialist billboards, chess players, and outdoor markets.
Each section of Island of Music is introduced by Keys as he drives his car around New York City, and there are a few people—both in Cuba and back in New York—commenting on the Cuban love of music or the longtime U.S. embargo of Cuba. Keys keeps them short, mostly showing his story instead of telling it, thus creating a more powerful portrait of the Cuban people.
Keys shows viewers a land in which music permeates everything—even on the beach, with bathers dancing on the sand—through the musical montages which form the bulk of Island of Music. His blending of visuals and music gives the film a feeling of energy and gets viewers involved, not just in the music, but in the lives of the people he filmed. Among the more interesting scenes are an old car catching fire on the street and a woman buying a meager portion of meat in a butcher shop. These scenes of everyday reality, contrasted with lively crowds at performances, show that strong will Keys tells us about in a way no narration could.
There are some quibbles—the verbal portions of the movie include one slightly muffled interview segment, the names of the people Keys interviews could be shown on the screen, and there must have been some extra footage that could have been included—but it's a musical journey that'll leave an impression.
It's a Region 0 DVD.
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