Connect with us
La Bamba movie review
Image: Columbia Pictures

Film

La Bamba at 35: Ritchie Valens, Before the Day the Music Died  

Born to poverty. Destined for stardom. He lived the American Dream

The electrifying true story of Ritchie Valens!

The same week of the arrival of The Day the Music Died: The Story of Don McLean’s American Pie, we mark the 35th anniversary of the biopic of one of the three rock stars who lost their lives in The Day the Music Died. That movie is La Bamba, directed by Luis Valdez, the electric examination of the life of Ritchie Valens, who was just 17 when he died on rock music’s darkest day. 

Buddy Holly was the most famous of the men who died in the Iowa plane crash on February 3, 1989, and 1978’s The Buddy Holly Story, with Gary Busey, is the most famous one made about those events. But La Bamba remains an outstanding examination of the unheralded Ritchie Valens, featuring first-rate musical numbers and a fine performance by Lou Diamond Phillips. 

Valens (real name Richard Steven Valenzuela) was born in California in 1941 and had his biggest hit with the titular “La Bamba” — a rocked-up version of a famous Mexican folk song — in 1958, the year before his death. He’s played in the movie by Phillips, then nearly a complete unknown, who parlayed the role into a career that has lasted decades. (Phillips was 25 at the time of the film, 7 years older than Valens was when he died.) 

Image: Columbia Pictures

Aside from the part about Valens having a very short life and career, La Bamba doesn’t color that far outside the conventional biopic lines. Growing up a kid loving rock ‘n’ roll, Ritchie is regularly menaced by his older half-brother (Esai Morales), before musical stardom allows him to escape. This leads to a record contract, stardom, and ultimately the tour that led to the fateful plane crash. 

In addition to his music and his family, La Bamba is largely based on Valens’ tragically ironic lifelong fear of flying, which began when a friend was killed in a plane crash when Valens was a kid. 

The thing I’ve always remembered most about La Bamba was its soundtrack, consisting of Valens’ own songs and those of the other musicians in the film.

I practically wore out the soundtrack back then, with Los Lobos playing most of the Valens songs, like the title track, “Donna,” “Come on Let’s Go” and others; their version of “La Bamba” even became a hit again in 1987, reaching #1 even though Valens’ own version never had. That soundtrack was also the first I heard of the likes of Marshall Crenshaw, Brian Setzer, and Bo Diddley.

It might not the most famous musical biopic of the 1980s, but La Bamba does its job well.

Image: Columbia Pictures
Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Facebook

Trending

Vesper poster Vesper poster

Vesper: Sci-Fi That Thinks Big With Limited Means

Culture

Anti-War Anti-War

Three Bestselling Anti-War Novels, Three A-List Film Adaptations…Three Flops:  Castle Keep, Catch-22, Slaughterhouse-Five

Culture

Your Full List of All Upcoming Marvel Movies Your Full List of All Upcoming Marvel Movies

A Full List Of Upcoming Marvel Studios Film And TV Releases

Culture

Robocop 1987 Robocop 1987

RoboCop is a Social Satire That Gets More Relevant With Age

Film

Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: The 10 Greatest Comic Issues Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: The 10 Greatest Comic Issues

Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: The 10 Greatest Comic Issues

Comics

Nope Nope

Jordan Peele’s Nope Explained: A Spectacle of “Bad Miracles”

Film

Unforgiven movie review Unforgiven movie review

Unforgiven Ushered the Western into its Afterlife 

Culture

Alex's War (2022) Alex's War (2022)

Alex’s War, a Documentary Study of Alex Jones, Misses the Big Picture 

Film

Signs movie review Signs movie review

M. Night Shyamalan Signs Finds Comfort at the End of the World

Film

All Out 2022 Predictions All Out 2022 Predictions

Way Too Early Predictions for All Out 2022

Wrestling

Biography: WWE Legends’ Look at Goldberg is One of the Best Wrestling Documentaries Ever 

TV

Detective vs Sleuths Detective vs Sleuths

Detective vs. Sleuths: Buckle Up for a Bumpy Ride

Culture

Incredible Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin Fan Film Takes The Franchise Into R-Rated Territory

Culture

The Gray Man movie review The Gray Man movie review

Netflix’s The Gray Man is its Most Expensive and Emptiest Star Vehicle

Culture

Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop 1987 Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop 1987

Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop is an Anti-Fascist Classic 

Film

Marvel at San Diego Comic-Con Marvel at San Diego Comic-Con

Marvel at San Diego Comic-Con 2022: A Full Recap

Culture

Connect