Since his breakthrough at the Fillmore in San Francisco and then a star-making performance at Woodstock in 1969, Carlos Santana’s fusion of improvisational Latin rock and blues has been regarded as transcendent.
In the director Rudy Valdez’s poignant but shortsighted documentary, “Carlos,” that same magic comes alive through performance clips from various eras of the Mexican guitarist’s half-century-long career and commentary about his life offstage. Santana’s ethereal mood imbues the movie with a numinous feel — even a childhood anecdote that he shares about his father communicating to birds while playing the violin at sunset is delivered with an affecting cosmic touch.
Although Santana, 76, reveals some raw details of his life — his father’s infidelity, experiencing sexual abuse as a child — the portrait, rendered primarily through interviews, leaves a lot out. For fans wondering about the anti-trans comments that he made at a show in July and then apologized for, there’s nothing in the documentary that mentions his political stances. The film presents Santana without critique.
Other interviews can feel muted. His sisters, exhibiting hesitant body language, don’t seem like they want to say too much. His bandmate and second wife, Cindy Blackman Santana, is even quieter. Deeper insights from a rock critic or music historian would have enriched the film to fully convey not just what Santana’s legacy is but what it means. Still, this controlled documentary captivates as a soulful personal history, even if it doesn’t exactly transcend.
Rated R for coarse language, brief nudity and rock ’n’ roll drug talk. Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes. In theaters.