Carlos: The Santana Journey review – profile of guitar hero very much in control

For those only passingly interested in the subject, this resolutely adequate portrait of guitarist Carlos Santana is the cinematic equivalent of a well-written and factchecked Wikipedia page but with loads more pictures and film clips. Hardcore fans may feel better served by the deep dive into Santana’s childhood and youth in Mexico, followed by his breakthrough into the San Francisco psychedelic music scene, and then on to that career-making performance at Woodstock in 1969. Forgive me if you have heard this one before, but Santana supposedly dropped acid given to him by Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, expecting he would have hours to come down before his band, named after him, had to go on and play. Instead, they were called on stage soon after. The weird faces Santana can be seen making in the immortal documentary of the festival are apparently a result of him thinking that the neck of his guitar was a snake that he had to wrestle into musical submission. Those were the days.

After the hit albums and huge tours of the 1970s, the story gets a bit duller – as most of these stories do. The narrative takes in the inevitable dissolution of the first marriage, the low times and then the comeback when Santana shifted musical direction a bit. As a documentary subject, albeit one clearly very much in control of his image here and not about to let the film-makers show him in anything but a flattering light, he comes across pretty well: articulate, still vain enough to have himself filmed shirtless, but grounded by strong family ties. That said, two of his sisters are interviewed and you can tell by their postures and hesitancies that they are holding back massive resentments.

Indeed, it is not clear how interested director Rudy Valdez is in Santana, or whether he is just doing this gig as a means to an end. Valdez’s filmography is filled with works that sound a lot more hard-hitting and social justice-oriented than this behind-the-music fluff. Even so, Valdez gets the job done, laying down a constant soundtrack of Santana’s music in the background that (to be honest) sounds like variations on the same theme over and over again at slightly different speeds. No mention is made of the most controversial thing Santana has done recently, which was to say on stage that transgender people should stay “in the closet”, remarks for which he has since apologised.

• Carlos: The Santana Journey is showing on 23 and 27 September in UK and Irish cinemas.