When Ry Cooder gathered a group of legendary Cuban musicians to record an album and tour together in 1998, time was of the essence, because many of them were well into their twilight years, having risen to prominence during the 1950s, when Batista still ruled the country. It was implicit that their inaugural tour would also be their farewell tour, and that the worldwide recognition they received, especially after Wim Wenders’ documentary Buena Vista Social Club became such a sensation, would conclude their story on a bittersweet high. By 2005, several prominent members of the group — the vocalists Compay Segundo and Ibrahim Ferrer, the pianist Rubén González — had passed away.
With that in mind, it’s a surprise to see a second documentary, Buena Vista Social Club: Adios, appear in 2017, after mortality has thinned the musicians’ ranks. The good news is that other key surviving members, like vocalist Omara Portuondo and singer/guitarist Eliades Ochoa, are still performing and a younger generation of musicians is stepping up, including the son of trumpeter Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal. The bad news is that Lucy Walker’s shoddily constructed documentary saves the new collective mostly for an extended postscript, focusing instead on retelling the story of the band’s original line-up and tracing all the personal and historical paths that finally intersected so late in their lives. There are few revelations here that weren’t already in Wenders’ film and far fewer performance scenes, too. It’s more like a supplement for fans, with 10% all-new footage.