Blu-ray Review: The Buddy Holly Story - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Though it plays fast and loose with the real facts of legendary rock and roll pioneer Buddy Holly’s life, director Steve Rash’s 1978 biopic The Buddy Holly Story remains an essential music-oriented movie. Long before he was relegated to pop culture punch line status, Gary Busey was recognized with an Academy Award nomination for his joyful, high energy portrayal of Holly. Busey and the actors playing Holly’s backing band The Crickets (Don Stroud as drummer and Charles Martin Smith as bassist; the real Cricket’s names were fictionalized for the film, and not all of them made it into the story) play their own instruments and do their own singing. We’re not hearing the familiar, classic Holly studio recordings. This is raw rock and roll, with Busey easily up to the challenge of replicating Holly’s patented vocal style. Whether crooning “True Love Ways” or growling out “Rave On,” he’s startlingly accurate. But the loose, roughhewn quality to his vocals ensures that we never lose the vital immediacy of Holly’s tunes.

The screenplay (by Robert Gittler, adapted from John Goldrosen’s biography Buddy Holly: His Life and Music), as well as Rash’s approach, are mostly in line with made-for-TV fare of the era. Visually the film is pedestrian. Dialogue is often too forced in its obvious effort to foreshadow events to come (not the least being Holly’s tragic death by plane crash at age 22). Though Joe Renszetti’s original score is mostly unobtrusive, wisely staying out of the way of Holly’s iconic hits, when it does rear its head, it’s in the most melodramatic of ways. And much has been made about the real-life surviving Crickets reaction to the film (to put it mildly, they didn’t like it) and the liberties taken with the real Holly story. Yet The Buddy Holly Story introduced this great music to a whole new generation, and has continued to do so in home video iterations for subsequent generations. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray is the latest way to discover (or rediscover) the enduring greatness of Holly’s catalogue of work.

Buddy Holly Story cover (169x220).jpgSo much of the movie is given over to live performances, and rightly so, its dramatic flaws are much more easily overlooked. There have been so many rags-to-riches, self-made superstar biopics in the years since that it’s too bad Story took such a by rote approach. But whenever Busey is behind a microphone, the film positively sizzles with early rock and roll abandon. His performance is simply a classic that can’t be missed. And if the film inspires people to acquire the original recordings and to seek out more accurate telling of the Buddy Holly story, then the filmmakers have truly achieved their goal of helping to immortalize the incalculably influential singer-songwriter from Lubbock, Texas. And to its credit, Rash’s film doesn’t shy away at all from the rampant racism that helped define public opinion of the era (Holly and Crickets’ music is widely shunned at first, at least by many in the South, for sounding too “black”).

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray presentation is excellent, with a crystal clear transfer. Having seen this film on DVD, I can say without a doubt that any Buddy Holly fan will be pleased with the easily discernible upgrade. Even better is the DTS-HD MA 5.1. Story was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound (it won Oscar gold for Best Adaptation Score) so it’s great to hear that sound design presented so terrifically. The dramatic scenes sound fine, but of course it’s the music we’re all here for. The aforementioned “recorded live” qualities of the musical performances are perfectly reflected by the surround mix. You can also hear the isolated score track in DTS-HD 5.1 surround.

Director Steve Rash and star Gary Busey deliver an interesting audio commentary track, which is (along with the isolated score track) the disc’s primary extra. There’s also a theatrical trailer and a new essay (printed in the Blu-ray booklet) by Twilight Time’s resident film critic Julie Kirgo. With only 3,000 copies of this limited edition available, fans will want to order at Screen Archives, the exclusive distributor of Twilight Time releases.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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