DVD Review: Flamenco, Flamenco

FlamencoDVDSTUDIO: Music Box | DIRECTOR: Carlos Saura
RELEASE DATE: 8/4/15 | PRICE: DVD $29.95, Blu-ray $34.95
BONUSES: featurettes, interview with director
SPECS: NR | 92 min. | Musical documentary | 1.85:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | Spanish with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall

I never thought a film consisting of flamenco music for a hundred minutes could ever be described as “riveting,” but Carlos Saura’s Flamenco Flamenco is nothing less. A love poem to an art form Saura has spent his long life studying, the film lovingly showcases one amazing musician after another, each with their own take on this rich musical genre that I, admittedly, knew almost nothing about.

The first thing to do when watching this film is to turn the clunky subtitle track off; between the incredible music and the gorgeous cinematography, your mind will have plenty to pay attention to without being distracted by subtitled song lyrics (watch it again later if you really care about what they’re saying.) This is not the cornball Ottmar Liebert fluff being played in department stores–it’s a document of flamenco’s rich past, as well as its continually evolving future. Song after song, Saura shows us the incredible creative range this style of music offers, sometimes focusing on the singer, sometimes the dancer, sometimes the instrumentalist. Mostly, though, he focuses on the tight interplay between all three—a disciplined arrangement that is both rigorously strict and passionately wild at the same time.

unnamed_optFilmed on an audience-less stage with tastefully minimalist set design and lighting, Flamenco Flamenco is a strange hybrid of live performance and choreographed music video. Far from the “catch as catch can” shooting philosophy of a concert film, each performance has been carefully mapped out: wide shots, close-ups of dancing feet, cameras tracking along the stage… the entire film, shot by three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storraro (Apocalypse Now, 1900) , is, itself, as much a work of art as the meticulous musical compositions and arrangements. The camera is as important here as any of the performers, who often play right to the lens- giving us a more intimate seat than any you’d find in the theater.

Saura is no stranger to flamenco music- his famous “Flamenco Trilogy” of 80’s films–Blood Wedding, Carmen, and El amor brujo—gave us some very meta takes on this world through the guise of dress rehearsals, operas and literature. But Flamenco Flamenco is strictly about the music and performances, and that’s what elevates this film to the level of true musical masterpiece. Flamenco Flamenco is more than just exquisitely crafted, visually luscious, and full of great music. It’s the fact that each bit adds something new to the overall narrative; we bounce from a full band surrounded by dancers to a few men singing around a table as they transform its surface into an impromptu drum. There’s a blazing piano duel bordering on fiery jazz, an entire song performed in the rain, and- you’ve got to love this one- a scene with an elegantly dressed woman dancing gracefully while smoking a cigarette the entire time. If that’s not badass, I don’t know what is. As if he’s compiling the ultimate flamenco mixtape, Saura builds his abstract musical story carefully and purposefully, creating not just the best ever showcase for flamenco on film, but one of the best examples of musical storytelling ever.

This Music Box DVD release has some beautiful behind-the-scenes pieces (for example, the paintings that adorn the set design are another story in themselves) and reveals how Saura was able to mix live music with choreographed camera work so flawlessly.

 

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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.