Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Buddy Holly Story (1978)

Gary Busey rocks in this biography of American rocker Buddy Holly.

He earned an Oscar nomination for best male lead for this entertaining 1978 effort from first-time director Steve Rash.

Busey is intense as the young singer/songwriter who knows the music he wants to make, but has to contend with plenty of flack from detractors who don't want to hear rock and roll, or see him associate with black entertainers in the mid-1950s. The Texas native does a fine job with his vocal takes on most of Holly's major hits including Rave On, Oh Boy! and Maybe Baby.

It's a year after graduating from high school and Holly is starting to feel pressure from his parents (Neva Patterson and Arch Johnson) who want him to put his guitar down and go to college. Church preacher (Richard Kennedy, in very fine form) warns his congregation, including Holly and his parents, of "this jungle rhythm" that's "a threat to our very society." Holly's original rock material gets the kids excited, but the sponsors of his live spots on radio want him to stick with country - not rock and roll. That won't cut it with Holly. He quits the broadcasts.

Opportunity knocks when Holly and his band, drummer Jesse (Don Stroud) and Ray Bob (Charles Martin Smith) on stand-up bass, get an invite to Nashville. Hope of a record deal turns to frustration when the producer wants Holly to ditch rock for, yep, traditional country. His time ends in frustration in Music City, but another door soon opens when a New York-based label gets its hands on one of Holly's live performances. Sales are good.

Cue the chance to record material the way Holly wants, and plenty of success on the charts too.

Holly woos Maria Elena (Maria Richwine), a secretary to a studio boss, and deals with more race issues. She's Puerta Rican and Catholic. He's not. Holly turns on the charm to get the blessing of Maria's aunt, Mrs. Santiago (Gloria Irizarry).

At times, The Buddy Holly Story feels too obvious in its depiction of the American rock and roll legend. Hey, here's Buddy experimenting in the studio. Watch, Buddy deals with racial prejudice. Gailard Sartain, so wonderful in Mississipi Burning, doesn't fare well in his brief turn as The Big Bopper. But there's also some fine camera work, especially tracking Holly and his band backstage at New York's Apollo Theater and capturing the energy of Holly's performances. Stroud shines behind the drum kit too.

Rock and roll lost a great talent in Holly, killed in a plane crash in February 1959. He was 22.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: The Buddy Holly Story marked film debuts for Maria Richwine and Fred Travalena, who appears as deejay Madman Mancuso.

Neva Patterson, who died in 2010 at 90, appeared in An Affair to Remember and All the President's Menn.

Comedian Paul Mooney appears as Sam Cooke.

The Buddy Holly Story won an Oscar for best music.

No comments: