Carlos Santana has absolutely earned the documentary treatment. Few contemporary musicians have had the longevity he’s enjoyed, much less the range. Carlos takes a smart approach. Rather than going with a routine recounting of everything that’s taken place during his career, director Rudy Valdez simply lets him talk, revealing what he wants to reveal and telling whatever stories he feels are most important. The intimate approach proves rewarding.
Topics covered are wide-ranging. Santana discusses his early influences and how he was inspired to mix musical styles. The discovery of drugs, he claims, unlocked something that allowed him to take his talent to the next level. Decades later, he had a spiritual awakening that completely changed his outlook on the world. He also reveals that he was molested as a child. Santana makes it clear that, for better or worse, these factors allowed his music to evolve. Like life itself, his career has seen continual reinvention. Candid recollections and insights keep you hanging on every word.
Of course, there’s plenty of great music in the movie, as well. The showstopping scene is a vintage concert performance during a torrential rainstorm where Santana and his band refused to stop playing for the crowd until it became physically dangerous to continue. Like David Byrne or Prince, Carlos Santana almost seems to become possessed when he plays live. The notes coming from his guitar take him to another place. Seeing such footage after listening to him share personal memories drives home the intense passion that has helped this accomplished musician maintain popularity over decades.
The last section of Carlos focuses on his album “Supernatural” – the one that brought him his biggest commercial success, along with an armload of Grammy Awards. Amazingly, he says he knew the record would be game-changing before he even recorded a note of it. That’s how ready he was to bring his distinct style fully into the mainstream. New generations discovered what he was all about.
Listening to the man offer his thoughts on these milestones is continually entertaining. What we come away with is a sense of gratitude. Santana appreciates what music has given him. Many rock docs center on the accomplishments of their subjects. Carlos gets at a deeper truth, which is that there’s a symbiotic relationship between music and musician. One feeds the other. That insight assures this enthralling movie will hold appeal for anybody who’s ever enjoyed a Santana song.
out of four
Carlos is rated R for language, some drug content, and brief nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.