I knew little about Ruben Blades other that topical knowledge of his music career, and knew him from movies, or more specifically, his funny performance in Disorganized Crime. In an attempt to learn more about him I decided to check out The Return of Ruben Blades, a 1985 film by Robert Mugge (Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise) which looked at Blades life and career at that particular moment.
Blades' stardom in salsa music had been well-established, as well as a blossoming movie career, but at the time of filming, he was receiving his Master's degree in International Law from Harvard. Mugge's film takes us there, along with the streets of his childhood Panama (where he earned political science and law degrees before coming to America), and a club appearance in New York City where we see several of his songs. We also see him in the studio, performing a duet with Linda Ronstadt in Spanish. He also shares his thoughts on music, music's power, race and racism, and community, through interviews and various writings.
Having no preconception of what Mugge's film would do, I enjoyed The Return of Ruben Blades in the unconventional way it was approaching its material. More than showing Blades' returning to Panama (and in one scene, some fireworks or pyrotechnics are being lit off yards away from him), it gives us a look into Blades' background and philosophies as good, if not better than, similarly produced films on entertainment figures. Rather than have peers talk about the subject, the film shows us the thoughts behind the subject through his writing and his music.
Throughout the film, the sense of Blades' passion through his music and writing is palpable. "Buscando America" is searching for a better place, finding it, and using that as a platform to address some global maladies; "Pedro Navaja" is Blades' interpretation of and tribute to Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife." Both song we see performed here and are natural extensions to Blades' observations and as you watch the film are reminded that they are part of his passions, and music is a powerful one as he says to writer Pete Hamill.
Ruben Blades is the type of person who wants to do a lot of varied life experiences and share them with people, give them access to his passions and to those experiences in some way, in the hopes of making the world a better place for all. That's the takeaway I got from The Return of Ruben Blades, and it proved to be a refreshing one for me and my all too brief glimpse into Ruben Blades the writer and performer. Seeing a film like this makes one want to take a deeper dive into its subject, and if Robert Mugge was attempting this, mission accomplished.The Blu-ray Disc:
The Return of Ruben Blades is presented in 4:3 and the results are fine. Film grain is present through the film, and the colors are replicated accurately, with little to no image enhancement that I noticed on the feature. The club sequences which are darker naturally do have overhead lighting so they are weaker as a result, but given the original material things are satisfactory.The Sound:
Two channel stereo on the disc, which replicates the performances well, but the interviews fluctuate a little on balance (most of this is on the street, which is natural). The music sounds clear albeit doesn't possess dynamic range, and the overall result is faithful to the source.Extras:
Nothing here.Final Thoughts:
The Return of Ruben Blades gives the viewer and interesting look into the life of a vibrant person. If you're familiar with Blades even the tiniest little bit, the film is worth checking out to experience a fascinating backstory behind this active individual. Technically the disc isn't breaking any ground, and the lack of extras (heck, 30 years on and no retrospective interview?) is a mild bummer, but it's worth checking out from a change of pace perspective.