La Bamba (1987)

Fifty one years ago on February 3, 1959 was the fateful day when a plane crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa which killed three rock & roll singers: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, & J.P. Richardson a.k.a. The Big Bopper.  This day would later be referred to as ‘The Day the Music Died’ by singer Don McLean.  In honor of them, I thought I would take a look back at the 1987 biographical film La Bamba directed by Luis Valdez.  The film stars Lou Diamond Phillips, Esai Morales, & Rosanna DeSoto & it takes place around the 1950’s. 

This biography centers on the rise & sudden death of famed rock & roll singer, Ritchie Valens (played by Lou Diamond Phillips).  Growing up, Ritchie has a rocky relationship with his mother, Connie (played by Rosanna DeSoto), as well as with his half-brother, Bob Morales (played by Esai Morales).  He falls in love with Donna & even writes a song about her, even though her parents seem to be against him dating their daughter.  Besides “Donna”, Ritchie manages to score two other hits with “La Bamba” & “Come on Let’s Go”.  Eventually Ritchie makes it to the big stage, American Bandstand.  During what would end up being his final concert during “The Winter Dance Party” tour, Ritchie catches a cold.  As a result, they flip a coin to see who would get to ride on the warm plane or freeze their ass on the cold bus.  Ritchie wins the coin toss & along with Buddy Holly & The Big Bopper take that fateful flight, which would lead to their demise & which, coincidentally, Ritchie had eerie premonitions about.  Ritchie was still in high school & only 17 years old at the time he passed away. 

One aspect of the filmmaking which I liked was the acting.  Even though I thought that Lou Diamond Phillips was excellent as Ritchie Valens, I thought that Esai Morales was superb as Ritchie’s half-brother, Bob & in my opinion, stole the movie.  Although the movie is about Ritchie, I had empathy for Bob.  For example, although he won an art contest, he threw away the prize because he felt his mom cared more about Ritchie than him.  Also, I think it was tough for him to live in Ritchie’s shadow.  Unfortunately, by the time they make amends over the phone, little did they know, that would be their final conversation together.

The other aspect of the filmmaking which I thought was great to include was the background music.  For example, when Ritchie is recording “We Belong Together”, it starts out showing him singing it, & then it cuts to him kissing Donna in his car, & ends with it cutting back to him finishing the song.  I thought that was great to cut to that scene as opposed to having it be stuck on him singing the song the entire time. 

My overall recommendation for this film is that I loved it.  I remember seeing this film when I was a little kid & absolutely enjoyed it.  I have started to become very fond of biographical movies as they are a great way to learn about the person.  I also like how this was one of the first biographical films to set the bar for later films which would also feature a singer who was taken from us way too soon like in 1997’s Selena & 2009’s Notorious.  This is an excellent film about a singer taken from us just as we were getting to know him.  Unfortunately, his life ended just as it was beginning.                  

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