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    Para Bailar La Bamba

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Viva La Bamba (1987), the sincerely made and musically dynamic biopic charting the tragically short career but lasting impact of the Mexican American singer/songwriter Ritchie Valens, on the 30th anniversary of its opening. Written and directed by pioneering Chicano playwright Luis Valdez (Zoot Suit), it endures as a story of a basically loving family tested by one brother’s startling success as well as a treasure trove of early rock era song greats (Donna, We Belong Together, Come On Let’s Go, Ooh My Head and Framed along with the anthemic title tune), stunningly recreated in the timeless style of their originators through the loving curatorial care of the film’s musical team of Los Lobos, Miles Goodman and Carlos Santana. Giving vivid and intelligent performances, Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie, Esai Morales as his conflicted half-brother Bob, Rossana DeSoto as their supportive mother Connie and the late Elizabeth Peña as Bob’s girlfriend Rosie have forever become identified with their movie counterparts and regularly celebrated their association with the Valens legacy in commemorative events in the intervening years. Co-produced by Taylor Hackford, who also chronicled the work of pioneering musicians in the The Idolmaker (1980), Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll (1987) and Ray (2005), the box-office hit (a solid and surprising $54 million) was never seen as innovative but its crowd-pleasing accomplishments were ultimately viewed as genuine in spirit and stirring in execution. “The tale has the classic lines of a rock-’n’-roll rise to glory, and you may feel you've seen some of the early sequences – the tryouts, divey clubs and scrub bands – in dozens of other movies,” Hal Hinson wrote in his original review in The Washington Post. “And you probably have. The movie plays like a greatest hits of movie bio cliches. But Valdez presents it all unapologetically, with brio, and the mood of the film is so vibrant and the energy so uninhibited that you're carried over the familiarity of the terrain. The outlines of the film are the same as those of ’30s and ’40s movies in which talented young kids from the Lower East Side (or wherever) rise to the top, but Valdez seems to have some primal, native resonance in his story; he's seen something immutable, classical and true in it. And darned if he doesn't believe in it so deeply that he almost convinces you it's true, too.” This On Location piece from 30 years ago conveys some of the dedication of its talented creative team: Twilight Time’s superb hi-def Blu-ray – available here: – conveys the heart, the bittersweet regret and the magic of a tragically brief career that managed to matter deeply.