La Bamba

Since the danger of getting COVID seems to be lifting, I decided to go to the theater yesterday. That, and the fact that for me anyway I’m not going to stay sequestered in my house for an indefinite time; life is short enough as it is. They recently allowed them to re-open. And one of my favorite programs is the one put on by TCM/Fathom Events. They generally present a classic movie once a month, to be shown only a few days, usually on a Sunday and Wednesday.

Although I question some of their definition of “classic”, vs old (Shrek is on next!), I have seen some fantastic movies, such as North by Northwest (Hitchcocks greatest, IMO), Casablanca and the Maltese Falcon.

Currently (this Wednesday and Thursday are the last days) they are showing the movie La Bamba, about the all-too-short life of 50s rocker Richie Valens.  

Valens (actual name, Ricardo Valenzuela), was one of those rock and roll pioneers in the 50s who rose from aspiring singer to national prominence in only 8 months. He and such other headliners as Dion and the Belmonts and Buddy Holly were touring the Midwest playing in small local venues. I was thinking today that rock stars play in stadiums making millions, but in those days it was frequently all night rides playing in front of hundreds.

Towards the end of his short 17 year old life, Richie would be traveling in an old bus with a broken heater in the freezing Midwest. It would be Buddy Holly who decided that day on February 3, 1959, to charter a Beechcraft Bonanza and with 3 available seats, well, 2 since Buddy would have one, they would beat the bus and avoid the freezing and uncomfortable night. The Beech took off in the snow and into immortality. It was the day the music died. And Richie would lose his life, like movie star Carole Lombard 17 years earlier, on a coin toss.

This 1987 movie is what made the career of a previously unknown Lou Diamond Phillips. And in the credits they thank the Valens family for their help, so I am assuming that it is not some screenwriter’s fictional embellishment.

It’s an inspirational story about a boy who rescued his widowed mother and sisters from a San Joaquin valley migrant camp and rose to stardom, all in 8 months.

It’s worth a look.

Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie Valens, and Danielle von Zerneck as Donna Ludwig




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