A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
On February 3, 1959, a small plane crashed outside Mason City, Iowa, killing Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. (The Big Bopper) Richardson. Don McLean sang about that day in 'American Pie.' He called it the day the music died.
Walking out of "The Buddy Holly Story", you wonder if maybe he wasn't right. It's no use trying to guess how things might have turned out if Holly hadn't been on that flight. He might have continued to develop as the most original rock and roll artist of his generation. He might, on the other hand, have gradually become a Paul Anka or a Barry Manilow, a polished performer of comfortably mainstream pop. The movie makes a pretty good case for the first possibility.
It also involves us as show-biz biographies rarely do. This is one rock and roll movie with a chance of being remembered, one with something to say and the style and energy to say it well. That's partly because it had good material to start with; Holly's life provides a microcosm of rock and roll's transformation into the dominant music of the last decades. But it's also because of Gary Busey's remarkable performance as Buddy Holly. If you're a fan of Holly and his music, you'll be quietly amazed at how completely Busey gets into the character. His performance isn't an imitation, a series of "impressions." It's a distillation of how Holly seemed, and how he sounded. That's all the more impressive because the movie doesn't use dubbing from the original records: Busey himself sings Holly's arrangements. And the movie's many concert scenes don't use post-dubbing, which almost always result in a flat and uncon-vincing sound. Busey did the material live.
That's crucial, in a way, because if "The Buddy Holly Story" doesn't convince (or remind) us that Holly's music was good, and important, the movie itself fails. Busey and the filmmakers do convince us, without even seeming to try. Walking out of the theater, I overheard a teen-age couple expressing surprise that Holly had composed 'It's So Easy to Fall in Love.' They thought it was a Linda Ronstadt original.