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6 Degrees Entertainment

'The Return Of Rubén Blades' [Blu-ray]
(Rubén Blades, et al / Blu ray / NR / 2016 / MVD Visual)

Overview: For salsa fans, 'THE RETURN OF RUBEN BLADES' is a must-see. Politicos looking for a credible and humane view on the fire down below our borders, and people interested in the evolving dynamics of pop culture will likewise find engaging ideas and insights in legendary filmmaker Robert Mugge's most recent effort - a refreshing portrait of an artist with a demonstrative grace and an irresistible beat.

Blu-ray Verdict: OK, a quick history legend for those uninitiated with the great Rubén Blades would be that he is a Panamanian singer, songwriter, actor, musician, activist, and politician, performing musically most often in the Afro-Cuban, salsa, and Latin jazz genres.

As a songwriter, Blades brought the lyrical sophistication of Central American nueva canción and Cuban nueva trova as well as experimental tempos and politically inspired Nuyorican salsa to his music, creating "thinking persons' (salsa) dance music".

He is, and deservedly so, an icon in Panama and is much admired throughout Latin America and Spain, and managed to attract 18% of the vote in his failed attempt to win the Panamanian presidency in 1994! In September 2004, he was appointed minister of tourism by Panamanian president Martín Torrijos for a five-year term. He holds a Licenciado en Derecho law degree from the University of Panama and an LL.M in International Law from Harvard University.

Robert Mugge, the filmmaker here on 'The Return Of Rubén Blades' is a visionary with a music critic's sensibility. His good taste in subjects is matched by the subtle way in which he lets his movies reveal all the music that fits. The result is filmmaking that informs and entertains, and in the age of overblown music videos and the blatantly artful hard sell of music, Mugge's movies are a relief to watch.

Listening to Blades discuss his work and then seeing him perform it onstage with his band is a lesson in humility to us all. His complete understanding of musicianship at work is a joy to behold, even if the film is dated. Featuring partial live recordings accompanied by Blades candidly talking about his feelings on Salsa, and life in general, the documentary begins at the Harvard Law School commencement exercise, continues on to Panama, and finally comes back to S.O.B.'s - a famous New York night club.

Taking place in the mid-80's, what we see, and quickly learn (as if we didn't know it before) is that Blades is an immensely likeable person - a movie natural, if you will. However, what finally emerges on screen via Mugge's direction is not really a platform rich with political insight, or the tale of a man striving to be the heir apparent to the Latin music traditions of Machito, Tito Puente, or even Ray Barretto. No, Mugge's affectionate and smart movie is a skilled viewing of a man, even in the mid-80's who is happy with his lot, happy with himself and the life it has given him. His whole political standpoints barely get a look in - being left out for the world to discover and better understand about him down the years, one assumes.

'The Return Of Rubén Blades' has been transferred to HD from the original 16mm film and lovingly restored here on Blu-ray and it is, without a doubt, one of the finest documentary's to have ever come out about the man himself, Rubén Blades. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.