As the first of its genre, The Buddy Holly Story was bound to lay out some fundamental Rock bio-pic clichés: the rags-to-riches arc, the landmark recording sessions and gigs, the intra-band politics, the “print the legend” approach to its subject’s life. It also knocked those pins down by having the actors not only perform their own music but having them do it live, on camera. Steve Rash’s movie actually works best as a true-blue concert film. Gary Busey may be way too old to play Holly (at 33, he was a full eleven years older than the singer at the time of his death), he may be too stocky even after having lost 32 pounds for the role, and his guitar playing may have been the only musical element to require overdubbing (by Jerry Zaremba, who plays Eddie Cochran in the movie), but he brings so much wild energy to his musical performances that the movie really comes alive during them. Rash clearly realizes this as he lets so many songs play out in full. The version of “Rock Around with Ollie Vee” that Busey, Charles Martin Smith, and Don Stroud play at a roller rink can stand alongside a lot of the most electrifying live Rock & Roll performances on film; it’s right up there with anything in The Last Waltz or Gimme Shelter (probably not The Kids Are Alright though).
The Buddy Holly Story doesn’t work as well as a biography, lacking drama and glaringly cutting Holly’s manager and producer Norman Petty out of the picture. Petty is not well-loved, because like a lot of guys in his position, he completely ripped off his artist by taking co-writing credit for songs he had nothing to do with and literally stealing royalty dollars. Rumor has it that Petty’s absence had to do with the influence of Holly’s widow, Maria. I understand why she’d still be bitter over Petty’s dirty dealings, but his absence also costs the film a villain that might have heightened the drama a lot. Instead, The Buddy Holly Story is often concerned with race relations, though refreshingly, it is Buddy's whiteness that causes problems in a Rock & Roll world regarded as an African-American domain (the potential problem his whiteness might cause in his romance with a Puerto Rican woman is a mere hiccup though). By turning the focus toward the intimately human instead of the epic, The Buddy Holly Story fells another bio-pic cliché. Even his death is not sensationalized.
The Buddy Holly Story is now available for the first time on blu-ray from Twilight Time. The picture generally looks good with a natural grain and very few blemishes, though some shots are a touch blurry. On the audio bonus side, there’s a feature commentary from Rash and Busey ported over from the 2003 Region 2 DVD and Twilight Time’s standard isolated score track, which has never been more welcome than it is on this movie so heavy with terrific music.Get The Buddy Holly Story blu-ray at screenarchives.com here.