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Blu-ray & DVD Review
On the 03 February 1959 Richie Valens won the worse coin toss of his life to secure an aeroplane seat, alongside Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper, a journey which would see all three killed in the crash…
La Bamba (1987. 1 hr, 48 min, 33 sec) is the film biopic of Valens's short life, he died aged only seventeen. The film was written and directed by Luis Valdez.
Valens's career only lasted eight months and so his output wasn’t that big, he is best known for ‘Donna’ which he wrote about his girlfriend and of course the updating of the Mexican folk song ‘La Bamba’. With so little to play with the director has chosen to shift much of the film's focus to Valens’s family, giving us a story of a rise from poverty to a tragic ending at such a young age.
The film opens with a recurring nightmare and the source of Valens’s (Lou Diamond Phillips) fear of flying. Although Valens wasn’t there his friend was killed and the thought of his own death in a plane haunts him all the time.
When we meet him, the young Richard Steven Valenzuela, is a normal teenager obsessed with rock and roll, growing up in a work camp. He lives with his mother, Connie Valenzuela (Rosanna DeSoto), who may be poor but this never gets in the way of her encouraging her children to be all they can.
Valens also lives with his half-brother Bob (Esai Morales) who he idolises. The film explores Bob's reaction to Valens’s success, which alternates between pleasurable pride and outright jealousy. The film explores the relationship between Valens’s and the girl who he named one of his hits after, Donna (Danielle von Zerneck), here also the overt racism which Latino’s often have to endure is brought to the forefront when Donna’s father disapproves of her dating, what he views as, a non-American boy.
The disc has audio options for DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 and Uncompressed Stereo LPCM, it also contains two interesting full length audio commentaries, the first from the director, cast and crew the second from Taylor Hackford and Daniel Valdez. The disc also contains the option for English subtitles.
On the extra side, you get the La Bamba Music Video (3 min, 09 sec) as performed by Los Lobos, another for Lonely Teardrops (3 min, 31 sec) this time performed by Howard Huntsberry; it’s the full Jackie Wilson sequence from the film.
There is a featurette – Remembering Richie (21 min, 10 sec) has the director and cast speaking about the importance of Valens, not only as a Latino star, but also as an icon of the American dream, a kid from the labour camps who became a star, if only for eight months. Lastly you get the original Theatrical Trailer (56 sec).
Although it’s a biopic of Valens, the film is much more about family, what keeps them together and what can drive them apart. The new Blu-ray print is presented with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the restored picture and the 5.1 track makes the most of the original material.
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