Friday, 2 July 2010

Some tango music films

Tango Salon, the BBC film about La Confiteria Ideal in Buenos Aires, was released on DVD in January. I've just rented it from my usual DVD provider, LoveFilm. It was made for general viewing rather than for the tango community, so bits of dance by the likes of Gerardo Portalea are intercut with talking heads, some interesting, many not. It also explores the political and economic situation in 2002. There are long takes of a youthful and exuberant Javier and Geraldine. Cutting up wonderful tango with talking heads is irritating, but I first watched it when I was just starting out, and I got a great deal about tango and about Argentina from it.

Unfortunately the BBC hasn't been reading Tangocommuter, or it would know that 'Extras' in the form of their out-takes, the full versions of the dances in the film, would be a big hit. There's not a single 'Extra', so if you've already seen the film there's nothing new. Which is terribly sad!

Color Tango seems to be available on DVD at Color Tango gigs only. It's a series of mini-lectures by Color Tango members, charting the history of tango, with musical illustrations. It would be a useful introduction for someone who knows little about the music. Good that Julio de Caro was given prominent mention: he introduced a musical sophistication into the relatively basic tango of his time. But the presentation of Color Tango is clunky at best. The mini-lectures are translated by translators rather than in subtitles, which slows the film.

Rodolfo Mederos has provided music for a number of films, but El último bandoneón ('The Last Bandoneón'), directed by Alejandro Saderman (2005) seems to be his first acting role. Ostensibly, the story is of how a gifted bandoneón performer, Marina Gayotto, auditions for a place in Mederos' new orquesta, but her instrument is useless, and her search for one that is playable takes her through the world of the bandoneón in Buenos Aires, the collectors, the repairers, the musicians. The dance appears too, with Geraldine and Javier, and a few of the older dancers, including Pedro Sanchez, talking about the tango world. But the musical focus of the film is the encounter of Mederos with a group of old bandoneón performers who get together regularly to play the old music. The film culminates with a concert with the new Mederos orquesta, but highlighting the bandoneón orquesta. So the storyline is rather mixed: the story of Marina looking for an instrument is an interesting insight into the world of the instrument, but provides little music. Musically, the group of old bandoneón performers is the focus of the film, but we don't see or hear a lot of them.

I've heard it said that there's been a prejudice against women playing bandoneón: until recently women have been welcome on the violin or piano, but not on bandoneón.

Mederos played with Piazolla and Pugliese, but went off in the 1970s to found Generación Cero, aiming at a fusion of jazz, rock and the music of Buenos Aires. By 1990 he had returned to tango. He was invited by Buenos Aires-born Daniel Barenboim to play in a tango trio that briefly toured Europe. This appears as a TV-only film, Tangos among friends. The tango is OK, but would hardly make you want to dance.

El otro camino ('A Different Way: Tango with Rodolfo Mederos') written and directed by Gabriel Szollosy (2008): another made-for-TV film. I watched it on cable TV late one tired night, so my impressions of it aren't exactly clear, but there's plenty of music in it, including several magical solo improvisations by Mederos. Unlike El último bandoneón the focus is much more on the music.

By far the best tango music film is Si Sos Brujo ('If you are a magician'), made by American-born Caroline Neal, who met bassist Vaurchensky when his group, El Arranque, played at a well-known London milonga. She was just finishing film school, and left with him for Buenos Aires. Vauchensky was trying to get funding for his great project (one of his great projects), the Orquesta Escuela Tango, so she was there, filming, at all the meetings and early rehearsals, and the film is an effortless, marvelous, fly-on-the-wall documentary.

At its centre is the wonderful Emilio Balcarce, who played with, and arranged for, many of the great golden age orquestas including Troilo and Pugliese. At an age when he might have expected to live quietly with his family he found himself on stage again, in Buenos Aires and on European tours, directing an orquesta of young musicians. Other surviving maestros of his generation are brought in to instruct the young musicians and to play with them: the meetings of experience with the energy of youth are extraordinary, and the music is exciting throughout. Not only is there plenty of good music, but the film is beautifully shot and well thought-out. This is definitely not to be missed, and it's the only one I can still enjoy watching again.

I'd like to say that this is the one to rush out and buy, but currently Amazon UK has only one copy - at £76. (We're assured it's in good condition.) I got it from them a year or two ago, and I think it cost around £20. Music Argentina advertises it for 18 Euros, but it would be imported from Argentina.

Here's the closing sequence, in La Ideal (where else?)


Anonymous said...

It's Mederos, not Mederas. And it's Orquesta Escuela, not Escuelo...

Tangocommuter said...

Thanks for the corrections: I've updated the post. & thanks for reading it! & I hope you've enjoyed the films...

Angelina said...

There's another... 'Cafe de Los Maestros' a film by Miguel Kohan about the maestros from the golden age of Tango. Similar in feel and style to 'Si Sos Brujos' (I have them both), this film is about some of the remaining great musicians, Leopoldo Federico, Lagrimas Rios, Jose Libertella and Luis Stazo reconstructing arrangements and working towards a performance at the Teatro Colon in BA.

Tangocommuter said...

Thanks, Angelina. You're right, and I overlooked Cafe de Los Maestros when I wrote. My memory of it isn't great: great musicians and great music, no doubt, but too much interruption for chatter. My impression was that not one complete tango was played, as if the film maker felt the music on its own might be boring. I'll watch it again one day.