Movie review: Carlos

keep a demon under control

Before I review the new documentary, Carlos, here is a little personal history. I had asked one of my parents, probably my father, if I could go to the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in Bethel, NY, in August 1969. He said no, and that was that. How was I to know that it would become WOODSTOCK?

So when the movie came out in the spring of 1970, a large group of friends and I saw it. Because, back in the day, we could, we then watched it again.

Some artists I knew, but not Santana, though Evil Ways had just hit the Top 10 nationally in March 1970. I was mesmerized by Soul Sacrifice. But I never knew why the lead guitarist seemed to be grimacing so much until I saw the new film.

The Dead

As the Variety review notes: “Carlos arrived at Woodstock by helicopter, and the first thing he encountered there was Jerry Garcia (who he knew from the Fillmore), extending an open hand with some pills in it. Carlos wasn’t scheduled to go on for many hours, so he figured he’d take the pills, and they would wear off.

“The next thing he knew, the Woodstock announcer, with that deep voice, was introducing Santana. Carlos stepped onstage out of his mind on acid… The film shows those clips, and Carlos, looking back, explains to us what was happening: He thought the neck of his guitar had turned into a writhing snake, one he was literally wrestling so that he could subdue it enough to play. What the whole world saw was a guitarist on pure electric fire. What Carlos was doing was trying to keep a demon under control.”

That’s just one interesting segment in the film, which I saw with my wife, at her suggestion, at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany recently. The doc starts with a tease of Oye Como Va, familiar yet rendered new.


Carlos was a poor kid born in Mexico. His father, a mariachi musician, taught his son how to play the violin. Eventually, Carlos had to tell his father, whom he adored, that the guitar was a better fit for him.

The family moved to San Francisco. A tape recording of Carlos from 1966, when he was 19, showed how remarkably good he was. There is also some great footage of the Fillmore with Bill Graham, Garcia, Joe Cocker, and others. Graham made sure that Carlos and his band played at the Fillmore steadily, either as the warm-up group or the headliner, when the scheduled artist failed to show. I liken it to when The Beatles played nearly daily in Hamburg, Germany, in the early 1960s and became solid musically.

BTW, Abraxas, the second album, remains my favorite, especially the segue of Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen. It was also his best-selling album until 1999.

  The movie delves into the masking of the album Supernatural, and Clive Davis’ part in that process, which was responsible for eight Grammys, including for Smooth, the single featuring Rob Thomas.


Two things jumped out throughout the film. Carlos’ spiritual journey is quite evident. After successful albums, he abandoned the rock motif for a time and became a disciple of the Indian spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy. I have an album with Carlos and John McLaughlin.

His disdain for musical collaborators who aren’t committed to the music is legendary, which is why there have been some three dozen members of the band Santana over the years.

He had two children with his first wife, Deborah King (m. 1973-2007), and both are inclined toward music.

In some ways, the storytelling was Carlos and his sisters sharing his story to Carlos’ second wife, Cindy Blackman, who, not incidentally, is Santana’s touring drummer. He proposed to her on stage during a concert in Illinois in July 2010, and they married in Hawaii five months later.

The documentary received 100% positive reviews from 17 Rotten Tomatoes reviews and was 94% positive with audiences. Carlos, directed by Rudy Valdez, is recommended.

Movie – Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song

September Cohen

Leonard CohenWhen we were in the Berkshires last week, my wife recommended that we go to the Images Cinema in downtown Williamstown, MA, to see the documentary Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song. She knew this would be the type of film I would be interested in seeing. I didn’t even know of its existence.

It is, the New York Times called “a definitive exploration of [the] singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen as seen through the prism of his internationally renowned hymn.”

It starts off with the poet and perhaps dilatant songwriter too shy to go out on stage. His then-new friend, Judy Collins, who had just covered his song Suzanne, went out on stage with him. He developed some confidence in performing, but developed some bad, though not uncommon, habits.

Leonard and his producer created an album containing Hallelujah and other good songs. In 1984, his label, Columbia, initially rejected it! (Yet they released an overdone album produced by Phil Spector.) The path of the song, involving perhaps 150 verses, Bob Dylan, John Cale, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, and far too many versions from American Idol and similar programs, is a fascinating tale.

Then in his seventies, Leonard has a musical resurgence. I have two albums of his from the 2010s, which I enjoy. He died in 2016 at the age of 82.


“Approved for production by Leonard Cohen just before his 80th birthday in 2014, the film accesses a wealth of never-before-seen archival materials from the Cohen Trust, including Cohen’s personal notebooks, journals and photographs, performance footage, and extremely rare audio recordings and interviews.” The film’s copyright is 2021, but the release date was July 15, 2022.

At some point, Leonard considered changing his first name to September. It’s not only his birth month, but it is also the month that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur often fall. I was particularly fascinated with him negotiating with his religious beliefs.

As luck would have it, Kelly has already written an essay about the song and has linked it to a Cohen version of Hallelujah.

The documentary is recommended if you can find it.

Documentary review: Attica


If “Attica” is just a line you recognize from the movie  Dog Day Afternoon, you should watch the Oscar-nominated, 2021 documentary of that name.

Now, if you were around then, you will discover a lot of details that you forgot, or more likely, did not know at all about one of the most significant prison riots in the United States. “This unnervingly vivid dive into the 1971 uprising… sheds new light on the enduring violence and racism of the prison system…”

A little over half of the approximately 2,200 prisoners took over the facility on September 9, taking 42 staff hostage. They had tired of their brutalizing conditions and sought to be treated like human beings. The stories in the film were told by some of the former prisoners. As one critic correctly notes, “I don’t think Attica glorifies the prisoners, but it does humanize them. That is, it presents them as human beings.”

There were four days of negotiations, including with the state Commissioner of Corrections, Russell G. Oswald. While there were some prisoners who wanted to hold Oswald and other negotiators hostage as well, the prisoner leadership opposed this, saying that they should deal in good faith.

Other people interviewed in the documentary included the families of the guards held hostage. Attica is a small town in rural Wyoming County, southwest of Rochester and southeast of Buffalo. The Department of Corrections is the major employer. Most of the prison personnel were white local folks, while most of the prisoners were black and/or Hispanic, creating a definite culture clash beyond the guard/prisoner dynamic.

During the negotiations, authorities agreed to 28 of the prisoners’ demands. But they would not agree to complete amnesty for the inmates involved with the prison takeover.

Nixon’s the one

The film shares audiotape of Nelson Rockefeller conferring with Richard M. Nixon. The governor assured the President that he would not accede to the demands to go to Attica, a position that Nixon applauded. Then on September 13, Rocky ordered armed corrections officers, and state and local police to retake the prison.

The next thing that happened, you may know. Or not, as disinformation was sent out by Rocky himself, disputed initially by ABC News reporter John Johnson and soon by medical examiners.

But it is what happened AFTER the siege that I had never heard about or seen before. It was quite disturbing in its own right. And that’s the strange thing about the movie. If you don’t know how the story ends, you might get three-quarters of the way through and still hold out for a happy ending.

The movie by writer/director Stanley Nelson got positive reviews from 50 of 51 critics. And the 51st has a snippet that says, “Extraordinary archival footage… You can’t just dismiss it as hyperbole.” I watched it on Amazon Prime.

Rita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It

West Side Story, The Electric Company, The Ritz, The Muppet Show

Rita-Poster.Just a girlRita Moreno: Just A Girl Who Decided To Go For It is the documentary my wife and I saw at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany recently. The IMBD summary reads, “A look at the life and work of Rita Moreno from her humble beginnings in Puerto Rico to her success on Broadway and in Hollywood.” It’s a bit more complicated than that.

For she loved growing up in her homeland. Hollywood, conversely was quite a bit more treacherous. It was stressful often being the primary breadwinner when you’re a teenager. She endured some abusive treatment during her career, from her bizarre pairing with Marlon Brando to assault from studio executives and a business manager of hers.

While she loved her small role in Singin’ In the Rain, she was often given the generically ethnic roles of Asian/Native American/whatever. At least she could use the same accent because the directors apparently couldn’t tell the difference, or care. Even her signature role as Anita in West Side Story she was unsure she should take.

When she won the Oscar, she gave a far too short acceptance. “I can’t believe it! Good Lord! I’ll leave you with that.” In the film, the older and wiser Rita mocks her younger self. For a time afterward, she largely stayed away from movies, choosing to focus on TV guest spots and stage appearances.


The ’70s were good to Rita. In 1972 she received a Grammy Award for Best Children’s Album for The Electric Company. “Hey, you guys!” “In 1975 she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for The Ritz. She won her Primetime Emmy Awards in 1977, and 1978 for her performances in The Muppet Show and The Rockford Files, respectively.”

The movie featured, as these things do, other performers speaking about her. A number of them Latinas such as Eva Longoria and Gloria Estefan, plus co-stars such as George Chakiris (WSS) and Morgan Freeman (Electric Company), and were fine. She was an inspiration to them all.

But the highlights of the film were Rita talking about Rita, warts and all. One of the few negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes says the movie “reiterates many… anecdotes, but it doesn’t tell us much that Moreno hasn’t divulged already in her 2013 memoir or in countless interviews over the years.”

For one thing, I didn’t read her book. For another, she seems to become more self-aware as she gets older. She looks great, but she’s fine letting the viewer know it takes wigs, makeup, and help to look that good. (She was 87 at a point in the film; she’s 90 now.)

She was involved in the remake of One Day at a Time, which ended in 2020. She’s going to appear in the reimagined West Side Story, directed by Steven Spielberg. It took her a good long while to get comfortable in her own skin, but surely she’s a wonderful raconteur of her own life.

Documentary movie review: 76 Days

Anonymous, and others

76 DaysCovid-19 started in the Wuhan province of China, with a population of 11 million, late in 2019. The film 76 Days documents how the hospitals there dealt with the pandemic in early 2020.

Initially, it was a rather brutalizing situation, with hospital staff dealing with a surge of patients literally trying to force their way in. The doctors and nurses covered with protective equipment from head to toe, the filmmakers kindly inserting names via subtitles.

Just as we saw in the American news coverage, these hospital workers were engaged in important, and exhausting, work. It was often raw and somewhat chaotic. Some got discharged, some didn’t make it.

Over time, fortunately, the viewer sees a sense of hope, and even humor, emerge. There was no narrative thrust to the film per se, particularly early on. Eventually, there were certain characters you start to identify.

The fisherman wants to go home before it’s safe for him and especially his family. The married couple is isolated in separate male and female wings. The new parents are waiting for their baby to finally come home.

The viewer also sees brief scenes outside of the hospital of people in lockdown, adjusting to the new situation. And finally, on April 4, 2020, horns blaring to mourn the dead.

Thumbs up

The documentary received 100% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. It was made by Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, and Anonymous. To read how the film was made and why one creator is not identified, read this interesting article in Variety.

76 Days is a remarkable, and fortuitous, documenting of a historic, albeit awful, event. It’s less terrible when we see the bravery and compassion of the staff. And the final scene, in many ways, is the most touching.

This film is available on Paramount +, free with the subscription, or on Amazon Prime, for an additional fee.

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