was one of the first to record Frank Sinatra, married Charo, and from time to
time had dinner with Al Capone. Xavier Cugat led a ridiculously full life, but
he also helped introduce Cuban rhythms to America, paving the way for
Afro-Cuban jazz. The music of the “Rumba King” was hipper than you thought
according to Chucho Valdés, one the many admirers who pays tribute to Cugat in
Diego Mas Trelles’s Sex, Maracas &
which screens during the 2017 Miami Film Festival.
life was a Horatio Alger story that took a very Hollywood turn. His family emigrated
from Catalonia first to Cuba when he was five-year-old and then again to America
ten-years later. Eventually, Cugat would marry and divorce five times, plus he
would be romantically linked to dozens of band singers and Hollywood starlets.
He started out accompanying silent films, but his band became the featured
attraction in many classic Hollywood musicals. Yet, his music was totally hip
and legit. In fact, composers and songwriters like Cole Porter and Ernesto
Lecuona wrote tunes expressly with his band in mind.
SM&C is a dishy doc,
but it is almost always Cugat doing the dishing. Late in life, he returned to
his native Catalonia, but he was never shy when prompted to reminisce about his
golden years, especially when it was an attractive reporter asking. The
archival footage always catches Cugat in a playful spirit, which Mas Trelles
matches with some sly editing and graphics.
cell-for-cell, SM&C might just be
the most rollickingly entertaining documentary of the last five years. You have
the glamour of Cugat’s vocalist-lovers (such as Lina Romay) and his wives, most
notably including Abbe Lane. Then there is the intrigue that comes from playing
the clubs and casinos owned by the likes of Bugsy Siegel and Scarface Al. There
are even dogs, thanks to Cugat’s investment in a Chihuahua breeding concern.
Plus, we get to hear Valdés play a little Cugat with his combo.
Man, what a life. SM&C is just overflowing with anecdotes and marriages, but we
get the feeling Mas Trelles is only scratching the surface. Nevertheless, he
keeps it snappy and consistently refocuses our attention on Cugat’s music,
which is impressively dexterous of him. Very highly recommended for anyone who
appreciates Latin music or old school Hollywood, Sex, Maracas & Chihuahuas screens this Friday (3/10), as part
of the Miami Film Festival.
Labels: Documentary, MFF '17, Spanish Cinema, Xavier Cugat