Arriving for the first time in the UK from Eureka Entertainment in a dual format 30th anniversary release is 1987s La Bamba. The film written and directed by Luis Valdez follows the very short life and career of Richard Steven Valenzuela who under the stage name Ritchie Valens became a rock and roll star. Killed on February 3, 1959, “The Day That Music Died”, in a tragic aeroplane crash alongside Buddy Holly and Big Bopper aged only seventeen.
In his first starring role, as Valens, Lou Diamond Phillips gives an engaging performance. He has the swagger and self confidence that young musicians need to succeed. The actor, who was 22 at the time of production, also had the acting chops in portraying the fractured relationship with alcoholic half-brother with a criminal past Bob played brilliantly by Esai Morales. He’s a young man that wrestles with the emotional weight of impending fatherhood to his brothers ex-girlfriend and unrealised artistic potential.
This a tragic, rag to riches tale that is uncomplicated in its narrative structure. The supporting cast made up of Elizabeth Peña, Danielle von Zerneck in layered performances alongside the always welcome on screen Joe Pantoliano as Ritchie’s record producer Bob Keane.
La Bamba’s music sequences with Diamond Philips make no bones that he isn’t singing with his vocals being performed by David Hidalgo from Los Lobos both work in sync to make these scenes enjoyable rather than grate like Dennis Quaid did in Great Balls of Fire as Jerry Lee Lewis. In the last eight months of his life Valens had several hits in the charts & began touring across the United States while dealing with his aviophobia triggered by a recurring nightmare as a result of a tragic mid-air collision between two planes that happened directly over his school and lead to Ritchie’s best friends death.
The movie does have its flaws; not delving further into the race problems that many Latino people faced in 50’s America it’s lightly tackled in scenes but mostly in the subplot with Valens relationship to high school sweetheart Donna Ludwig that met with disapproval from her father. Then there’s several script contrivances, such as the Tijuana sequence a night of drunken debauchery the brothers have it’s here when Ritchie hears the title song in a Mexican Brothel for the first time.
As the son of a Chicano migrant it’s a folk tune that he would listened to growing up and there’s a scene that doesn’t ring true involving a snake man that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Oliver Stone’s The Doors. At the time of La Bamba’s release made $54 million at the box office. This gave Hollywood studios the confidence that stories about Latino culture could reach mainstream audiences and made Valens most famous song a chart hit again for Los Lobos.
This Eureka Entertainment release contains a decent set of extras with the inclusion of behind the scenes footage shot during the films production that has interviews with cast, crew and Ritchie Valens family members. The disc also contains music videos,trailers and in depth archival audio commentaries .
Dir: Luis Valdez
Scr: Luis Valdez
Prd: Bill Borden, Taylor Hackford
Cast: Esai Morales,Rosanna DeSoto,Elizabeth Peña,Joe Pantoliano, Lou Diamond Phillips
D.O.P: Adam Greenberg
Music: Los Lobos, Miles Goodman
Run time: 108 minutes
La Bamba available on Dual Format now