Videophiled Classic: ‘The Buddy Holly Story’ on Blu-ray

BuddyHolly
Buddy Holly died young, long before he was finished making his creative contribution to the fledgling rock genre and before the movies had a chance to try him out as a screen performer. So instead of Buddy on the big screen, we have Gary Busey playing the musical hipster from the Bible-belt culture of Lubbock, Texas in The Buddy Holly Story (Twilight Time, Blu-ray). This 1978 biopic is almost square in its straightforward storytelling yet utterly engaging and oddly expressive of the creative spirit from an unlikely rebel. This is one of my favorite rock biopics of all time and decades later I still prefer it to the more flamboyant and self-conscious portraits of musical legends that have become the fashion. This is so square that it’s hip!

Busey’s gangly physicality, crooked, toothy smiles, and stage intensity brings Holly to life as both an unlikely rock ‘n’ roll rebel (he was first rock star to wear glasses onstage and in publicity shots) and an original voice in pop music. Off stage he’s the sweet, goofy, slightly odd boy next door with a gift for music, and onstage he turns every performance into an act of creation, as if each song is reborn when played for each new audience. Don Stroud and Charles Martin Smith provide solid back-up as bass man Jesse and drummer Ray Bob, fictionalized versions of the original Crickets (the origin of their name may be apocryphal but it is nonetheless a delightful scene) and Conrad Janis (of Mork and Mindy) is another fictional creation loosely inspired by Norman Petty, a record executive who chooses to back the instincts of this young man from Lubbock.

Director Steve Rash stumbled with his next film, the tone-deaf comedy Under the Rainbow, and never really recovered (lately he’s been relegated to direct-to-disc sequels) but on The Buddy Holly Story, which was his debut feature, his instincts and his execution are dead on. He eschews both reverence and show-biz melodrama for a low-key evocation of late-1950s culture and a no-nonsense peek into the workings of the music business and the practical approach that Holly took to creating the distinctive sound of his records. This isn’t genius springing fully formed from the artist like a wellspring but ideas developed and worked over by a professional devoted to his art. It may be the most unaffected biography of a musical great ever made, certainly one of the few that acknowledges the hard work and commitment necessary to creating music. It earned Busey his first and only Oscar nomination for Best Actor and reminds us that before he became a celebrity train wreck and reality TV joke, Busey was a fine actor who had at least one brilliant performance in his long career.

The musical recreation of Holly’s hits and sound is superb, from Busey’s Texas twang to the band thumping away behind a driving guitar creating both more sound and more melody than you thought possible from a single electric instrument. The musical adaptation earned the film its only Academy Award and is isolated on separate audio track on the Blu-ray debut, which is a trademark feature of Twilight Time releases put to a slightly different emphasis this time around. It also features commentary by director Steve Rash and star Gary Busey carried over from the old DVD release, the trailer, and an eight-page booklet with a new essay by Julie Kirgo. It is limited to 3000 copies and available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM.

More rock and roll movies on Blu-ray at Cinephiled

“American Graffiti” – Where were you in ’62?

Lucas nostalgia

American Graffiti: Special Edition (Universal)

Where were you in ’62? George Lucas was cruising the strip in hot rods. After his first feature, THX-1138, flopped, he reached back to his formative experiences for this easy-going “night in the life” portrait of high-school grads on the last blast of summer before heading off to college. Richard Dreyfuss takes his first leading role as the ostensible lead in a big ensemble cast that includes Ron Howard, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Paul LeMat, Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark and Mackenzie Philips, plus Harrison Ford in a small role as a big-talking hot-shot looking for a street race. It’s the first Lucasfilm production, co-produced by Francis Ford Coppola, and the first film to really embrace the jukebox soundtrack: the score is essentially the song list played by deejay Wolfman Jack (playing himself) on the AM radio that every single car is tuned to.

Lucas supervised the digital remaster for the Blu-ray debut and recorded a new video picture-in-picture commentary for the release, which pops in and out of the film but it pretty consistent throughout. There’s also a function to identify the songs. Ported over from previous releases is Laurent Bouzreau’s excellent 78-minute “The Making of American Graffiti” and 22 minutes of screen tests.

More Blu-ray reviews as MSN Videodrone