Carlos (2023)

September 18th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Rudy Valdez | US biopic with Carlos Santana | 87′

This is a comprehensive and personal chronicle recounted by the Mexican born guitarist Carlos Santana, now 76, who rose to fame in the late 1960s where he pioneered a fusion of rock&roll and American jazz with his eponymous band.

Directed by Rudy Valdez and featuring Carlos himself – interweaved with archive footage, family photos and films of the band performing – we hear how he grew up in 1950s Tijuana Mexico, where his parents were his main influence – and not always in a positive light – along with Tito Puentes, Little Richard and B B King. His father Jose was a violin player in a classic Mariachi band, a national instrumental style that involved the players dressed in matching outfits, led by a conductor. Close to his mother, Carlos states, in a rather cheesy note, how buying her a home with a refrigerator meant much more to him than personal fame.

Carlos’ first recorded performance was in 1966 when the family had moved to San Francisco where he would cross paths with producer Bill Graham who began booking the band as a support act to the likes of The Who.

For diehard fans of Santana’s iconic style, the film misses a trick in its focus on family details as recorded in his 2014 memoir, “The Universal Tone,” more than his fabulous career as lead of the world famous band. The thrust here is on his early struggles which involved sexual abuse, addition and racism, and his fight for success and recognition through spirituality.

The band toured internationally, and I was lucky enough to see them at a gig at university on their rise to fame with the 1999 ‘Supernatural’ Album, and they made for a spectacular live act and are equally powerful in the recording studio.

But Carlos ultimately attributed his success to Columbia’s Clive Davis, who is now a senior at Sony Music Entertainment, the production company behind this documentary. There is a distinct lack of commentary from friends and collaborators making this seem rather a one-sided and even self-congratulatory affair despite some enjoyable musical interludes that stand testament to the band’s iconic status and worthy of its international fan base. MT


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