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I always liked listening to Buddy Holly and felt a real loss when he
was killed at a young age in an airplane crash. He wasn't in the old
rock 'n roll class of , let's say, Chuck Berry or Jerry Lee Lewis, but
he wasn't far behind. Who knows how big his legacy would have been had
he sang for decades. Almost every single he put out was a hit.
So, I was very pleasantly surprised how good a job Gary Busey did at playing him and at imitating his singing voice. He did Buddy proud, as were the actors (Don Stroud and Charles Martin Smith) who played Holly's backup group, "The Crickets."
Music-wise, there are some of Holly's better-known songs in the beginning of the film and its really good with a strong finish at the end as Holly and the boys are shown in Iowa in their last concert ever. Busey not only sings like Holly, he's a dead ringer for him in the looks department. Some thing was the actor''s best performance ever, and you get no argument from me.
I'm also glad they ended the film on an upbeat note with that Iowa concert, instead of dwelling on his tragic accident. The ending could have been a real downer, but they didn't let it be.
I was fortunate enough to be an extra in this movie when I was about 13
during the roller rink scenes. My junior high school drama class was
invited to participate. It was a fantastic experience.
Gary Busey, Charles Martin Smith and Don Stroud played the music live, all day! As a musician, I can appreciate the tireless work and dedication these guys put in to their roles. They must have played those songs 20 times. It's very difficult to maintain consistency and energy under those conditions. This is visible during a cut to a close-up on "That'll Be the Day," but fortunately the unsuspecting public probably wouldn't have picked it up.
Skating around all day, getting the day off from school and being transported back in time was a incredible thrill. I also had my first "date" on film. I had to walk a girl up to the ticket booth. Woo hoo! Even with an out-of-date haircut and hot lights melting the vaseline in my hair, it was still worth it. Fun stuff.
The movie is top notch and is highly satisfying as a whole. Busey delivers his best role ever and the supporting cast is superb. I'm glad to have participated in a great film of the day. To think I could have been in Corvette Summer or something. Not.
A funny ironic ending to this is that years later I was in a video store in Malibu looking at the movie the week it was released on video. Gary Busey walked in and stood right next to me. I showed him the cover and babbled on how great he was and how I was an extra and whatnot. Pretty weird, but very cool, for what it's worth.
At times, you forget that you are watching Gary Busey play Buddy Holly and start to think that you are really watching Buddy Holly! Besides the terrific acting, Busey is really singing and playing the guitar when on stage. The movie is made as real as a documentary. Like snap shots from his life, the Buddy Holly Story is just that, Buddy Holly's story.
When Gary Busey got nominated for an Oscar for his performance in "The
Buddy Holly Story," alongside Robert DeNiro, Warren Beatty, Laurence
Olivier, and winner Jon Voight, it turned a lot of heads and made
people pay more attention when the film came out on video and cable.
Seeing it then for the first time years ago, I was amazed by Busey's
powerful dynamism, the way he lives through each moment of the film so
authentically. The rest of the film was enjoyable, funny, perceptive,
and made me feel like I really understood something about Buddy Holly.
Watching it again years later, I still think Busey is terrific. But the rest of the film feels like a 1970s TV movie, with broad characterizations by the likes of Conrad Janis as a record exec. The Crickets are woefully portrayed, or perhaps a better word might be betrayed, given this shows them to be racist mediocrities who hold their buddy Buddy down. Even when the history isn't wrong, it feels wrong, like the scene of the Buffalo DJ who locks himself in his studio and plays "That'll Be The Day" non-stop until the police break down the door, helping launch the band.
"How'd get that dynamite sound?" the actor playing the DJ asks, hamming it up.
"Well, there's a guitar, drums, a stand-up bass and a cricket," Buddy replies, meaning an insect got in the middle of the recording session and made some background noise.
"Wow, Buddy Holly and the Crickets! What a super name!"
There's some truth behind the anecdote, a cricket apparently did find its way into the studio and inspired the band's name, but it just feels too contrived. Same with Buddy's problems back home in Lubbock, Texas, where his girl wants him to shape up and go to college. The actress playing the girlfriend is cute and winsome, but she pouts like a sitcom actress and says her lines like she's auditioning to play Marsha Brady.
But when the camera is on Busey as Holly, something takes over. He throws himself into every song with utter abandon, losing himself in Buddy's big glasses and pompadoured curls. It's not a note-perfect Buddy, but it encapsulates his spirit in a defining way. The only other actor who so dominated a film was George C. Scott in "Patton."
The fictionalized Crickets, only two instead of three, Don Stroud and Charles Martin Smith, are pretty terrific as backing musicians. I especially liked Stroud as Jesse the drummer, the way he cracks the skins and hammers the high hats with door-slamming authority. All the numbers are performed live, an unusual and brave choice by director Steve Rash that pays off brilliantly, capturing the raw vibrancy of straight-ahead rock 'n' roll.
There's a great opening sequence, done with a swooping camera shot inside a roller rink to where Buddy and his band play some bop for the kiddies and scandalize the community. Just the way the band switches from the soporific "Mockingbird Hill" to the thumping "Rock Around With Ollie Vee," with the audience reacting in comically but believably different ways (kids rushing the stage clapping their hands, adults rushing the exits clapping their ears) is a thrilling capsule commentary on what rock overcame to take over American culture. Also good are the period touches at the rink, like the malt bar, the roller skates, the sad fellow with the combover who plays rinkydink piano until someone taps him on the shoulders in mid-note.
Also good is the Apollo Theater scene, where Buddy and the Crickets become the first white band to play in that Harlem venue, getting a hilariously cold reaction when the curtain goes up, then winning the crowd over. I sort of doubt it happened like that, but there's some funny exchanges with the theater manager, and it's nice seeing Stymie from "Our Gang" in an adult role, complete with his trademark derby.
Basically, any scene where Buddy is performing is good, though his final performance at the Winter Dance Party in Clear Lake, Iowa, by which point he has become a solo act, is a little overdone, what with the over-the-top violins on "True Love Ways" and Ritchie Valens joining him on stage at the end with maracas.
Meanwhile back home, the Crickets come over to Buddy's apartment, and after talking to Buddy's pregnant wife Maria Elena, decide to surprise Buddy at his next tour stop in Moorhead, Minnesota. Yeah, right. Of course Buddy won't be there, he and Ritchie and the Big Bopper having picked the wrong night to fly. All that's left is a freeze frame of Buddy and some sad music over the credits.
We only had Buddy for 18 months, and this film, along with Don McLean's 1972 hit "American Pie," gave him back to us in a small but tangible way. For that, and for Busey's breakout moment, it is worth treasuring, and there are some nice scenes here and there. But playing with the facts is no way to tell a legend's story, especially when it serves sitcom-caliber punch lines. It's a good movie, but the real story behind it is better.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Buddy Holly Story opens on a shot of a yellow neon moon on the roof
of a roller rink in 1956 Lubbock, Texas. As the credits start, the
camera moves down from the moon to the parking lot, into the roller
rink, past the concessions and across the rink to a small bandstand
where a small band is doing their sound check. It's a tracking shot
Welles and Scorcese would both appreciate. It cuts to Buddy Holly's
bespectacled face peering down in rapt concentration as he grips the
headphones and talks to a man putting this band on the radio.
A young Gary Busey plays Buddy Holly and his performance is key. He has to somehow show the passion that Holly had for his music to make the film work. This is a rock and roll story without lines of coke chased with shots of heroin and a fifth of whiskey. This isn't about a man with several women to choose between in a sex scandalized, brood abandoned lusty tragedy. This is a film about a nice Texas boy who respected his parents and went to church and had the same girlfriend for 5 years and fell in love with rock and roll. Busey finds that spark and ignites it, his passion is clear and infectious. He really plays the guitar in the film and sings, its not overdubbed with Holly's recordings. Busey was a young guy in Hollywood in the seventies, a struggling actor and as much or more so a struggling rock musician as well. Thus, he gives a great performance, because although he isn't Buddy Holly, he's in a similar situation.
His first song is the old Les Paul classic, "Mockingbird Hill" and he has the country twang to nail it. Next a kid calls out for some bop, and against his two band mates (in reality the Crickets were 3 guys, but the down-sizing works fine for the film's limited narrative)he leads them wailing into "Rocking with Ollie Vee". The kids love it and the parents hate it. The DJ at the rolling rink tapes it and it is later released in New York without Buddy Holly even knowing it was ever recorded. This leads to the funniest scene in a film filled with humorous moments. An amped-up disc jockey from Buffalo calls up Buddy at home. The DJ has been playing "That'll be the Day" for 12 hours and is going for 24. The cops are banging on the station's barricaded door. Holly is confused, but when the dust settles, he is quite thrilled. He tells the boys, and their meteoric rise begins. Dan Stroud as the drummer and Charles Martin Smith as the bassist round out the band nicely and have good chemistry with each other. There are problems but not overblown drama thats found in most rock (all?) biopics. The movie doesn't manipulate you either. Your emotions soar, but they're not manipulated. When the Crickets step onto the Apollo stage in Harlem, the first white group ever to play there, then rip into an electrically charged performance of "Oh Boy" and win the audience over, my rock and roll loving ass got choked up and cried. Next, Busey and the boys make "It's so Easy" sound funkier and more soulful than I would have believed possible.
Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Buddy Holly's story will know where this movie will end. Holly died in a plane crash with Richie Valens and the Big Bopper way too young. We, as the audience know that, yet the movie is so well written, directed and lovingly acted that we forget it almost immediately. The movie isn't about his death, it's about his life and his place in rock and roll history. The film ends with his last performance and it's a good fifteen minutes of Busey rocking out possessed by the ghost of Buddy Holly. I was happy to hear him end it on "Not Fade Away", my favorite of his songs. The film freezes before the end credits with the information about the plane crash, but I hardly noticed it. I was still thinking about how good that last song was.
What a great film! I never knew much about Buddy Holly, but was familiar with his lively and fun music. This is a wonderful biography of someone who helped change the music in the 1950's. Although I never cared for Gary Bussey, he was fabulous as Buddy Holly! I don't know how accurate the movie is, but assume at least for the most part it is accurate, which makes the movie all the more interesting. The music throughout the movie just adds the pizazz to this biography. I don't think I would change a thing in this film, it was all good! What a difference in the stars from the 50's to todays music stars. How can you compare someone like Buddy Holly to Justin Timberlake? or any of the other popular singers of this generation?
This film set the standard for all rock biopics to follow. It accomplished this through the energetic performances of the leads, the steadiness of the camera-work (avoiding 'rock-video' clichés that were actually invented for the Beatles in their first two films), tight editing, and a non-judgmental presentation of the star as human being rather than symbol or god (or demon). Yes, there are minor holes in the plot, and incidental details that are a little unnecessary, and there will always be debate between families of those personally involved as to specifics. But the issue here, as in the much more recent "I walk the Line" or Carpenter's famed TV Elvis biopic of the same era, is whether the meaning of the performer's life, in its time and place, as a catalyst for fans' ideals and appreciation, is made manifest in the performance, and this is clearly the case here. We come away from this movie understanding not only how Buddy Holly became a star, but why. I don't see what else one could want from the film.
A fine film about the late great Buddy Holly. Watch it for no other reason than to see the scene where Buddy sings "True Love Weighs." Gary Busey did his own singing and that particular scene is fantastic. Overlook the various minor inaccuracies in this picture.
If there is one reason to watch this movie, it's not for an accurate depiction of Buddy Holly's life and career; it's for Gary Busey's incredible portrayal of the lead character. Busey received a well deserved Best Actor Oscar nomination for his tour de force. The film is a "docudrama" that overstates and over-glorifies Holly's contribution to and achievements in the early Rock and Roll era. I guess John Lennon was joking when he said "Before Elvis, there was nothing" because anyone who watched this movie understands that nobody knew what they were doing before Good Ole Buddy emerged on the scene a few years later. And he did it all without a producer or even a band who believed in and supported him! But when you're in the same league as Motzart, anything's possible! That's what makes Busey's performance so remarkable; he is so convincing and compelling that you actually believe this is who Buddy Holly was. Busey succeeds in creating this charismatic and dynamic performer,leader and visionary who never existed to that extent. The final scene is case in point when Holly is bombastically leading Richie Valens and the Big Bopper on stage during the final concert; in reality it could have been the 4th co-headliner, Dion and Belmonts closing that show and Holly playing drums for them which he had to do often on that tour. But this movie is not about presentation of the hard facts, but a celebration of a man and his music, which Busey's performance along with all of Holly's best songs easily accomplishes.
I turned 13 when Elvis hit the big times in 1956 with his first RCA
hit. A year later Buddy Holly stepped in to give the King some
competition. One of Buddy's major talents, besides his unique singing
style and his songwriting ability, is often downplayed. Buddy was also
a skilled lead guitar player, developing a unique rockabilly style all
his own on his Fender Strat. Gary Busey attempts to capture this aspect
of Buddy's persona. There were other contemporary master guitar rockers
of equal caliber, such as Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, and Eddie Cochran,
but Buddy's talent is often overlooked.
As noted by others, Busey is the driving force behind the success of "The Buddy Holly Story." Not only does the script play with the facts of Buddy's life, but it even interjects several anachronisms for the two years of Buddy's popularity, basically 1957-1959. One that comes to mind is the scene where Buddy and Maria are watching a 3-D movie. Buddy is disenchanted with it all and tells Maria that it'll never last. It's just a fad. In reality there were no 3-D movies in circulation at the time. The heyday for 3-D was in the early 1950's. By 1955 the fad had already faded. Yet another example where just a little research would have sufficed to make the story more believable.
At times it is difficult to separate what really happened from urban legends surrounding Buddy's career. The story about how the Crickets got their name may or may not be apocryphal, but it certainly did not take place the way it is presented in the movie. Another problem with the film is how Buddy's parents are depicted. Certainly Buddy's parents were supportive of his musical career. "Maybe Baby" is credited to Buddy's mother and she did have input into the writing of the song.
It's good that Buddy's biggest hits were used in the movie, but I miss hearing one of my favorites, "I'm Looking For Someone to Love." I'm proud that as a result of this movie, Buddy's music was reissued for a new generation to hear. His legacy is one of the very best from the early days of rock 'n' roll. Rave on, Buddy, rave on.
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