Known for blending psychedelic rock’n’roll and blues with infectious Latin rhythms, Carlos Santana has marked an over-50-year-long career with stellar tracks including (and in no way limited to) Black Magic Woman and Got Nobody to Depend On, numerous awards and a position on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists”. Rudy Valdez’s Carlos puts the musician in the spotlight for him to share his life story, alongside his almost religious passion for music. From growing up with a musician father, his own artistic influences and his career in Santana, the documentary is overflowing with the singer’s experiences and nuggets of wisdom. However, this is a rather unremarkable documentary for a very remarkable man.
Framed as an extended interview with Santana, interspersed with archive footage of past performances, television interviews and home videos (all of which are steeped in the guitarist’s electrifying music), there’s a personal quality to the film, which makes his story even more enthralling. Conversations with family members reminiscing about fond memories likewise add to the overall sense of intimacy of what’s being said, as if viewers were sitting around the table with them, laughing along with humorous anecdotes.
Growing up in Tijuana with a talented violinist for a father, Santana would eventually skyrocket to stardom after getting a regular spot playing in San Fransisco’s Filmore Auditorium. Woodstock, multiple albums and plenty of drugs would soon follow, but, for Santana, it was primarily all about the music. Footage of his band playing in a lightning storm, coupled with him leading his bandmates with a firm hand, underscores the passion he shares for his craft, something that he’s had his entire life.
Like the titular artist’s music, Carlos hits a cascade of intriguing notes in quick succession. The documentary paints a broad snapshot of his life and career, but unfortunately lacks the depth to tackle any of these points in meaningful ways. It wants to be a film that’s about the relationship between Santana and his father, his musical influences and his own spiritual journey, without excelling at being any, which makes for an unfulfilling experience.
Music aficionados will doubtlessly appreciate accompanying Carlos Santana as he recounts his life to camera. Other than that, though, Carlos doesn’t have much else to offer.
Carlos is released in select cinemas on 23rd September 2023.
Watch the trailer for Carlos here: