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    Texan Transformation

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    At a world premiere screening event in Houston 39 years ago today, audiences caught lightning in a bottle when they saw the fruits of a long-in-the-making effort that involved one son of Texas paying true and galvanizing tribute to another Lone Star State legend through sheer dedication and innate musical ability. They saw then-33-year-old Goose Creek native Gary Busey playing – and singing his heart out – in the title role of The Buddy Holly Story (1978), a music-drenched portrait of the Lubbock-born rock-’n’-roll pioneer, whose comet-like rise as a performer/songwriter/arranger – from his mid-teens to his profoundly untimely death at 22 – influenced future generations of musicmakers. Directed by Texas-raised Steve Rash, making his feature-film debut after earning his stripes with a rash of music videos created as that burgeoning art form was taking shape in the culture, it proved to be a felicitous confluence of talent, especially after the creative decision was made to stage, perform and record the music live, evoking the energy of but not relying on the crutch of the original Holly renditions. The beefy, blonde Busey, before that an up-and-coming character actor via roles in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (a Twilight Time title), the 1976 remake of A Star Is Born and John Milius’ surfing comrades saga Big Wednesday (which would open in Los Angeles the following week) as well as a drummer who played in the bands of Leon Russell, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson, physically remade himself by taking off dozens of pounds, dying and curling his hair, and tapping into his inner geek with purpose and gusto to capture the combination of awkwardness and musical perfectionism that characterized the firebrand Holly. He sang That’ll Be the Day, Maybe Baby, Oh, Boy, It’s So Easy, Peggy Sue, Rave On, Words of Love, True Love Ways, Well…All Right and Not Fade Away with soulful conviction – and his identification with Holly has been sealed ever since. Last year he told interviewer Chris Yandek: “I’ll tell you this about Buddy Holly, he sang through me when I did that film. That was his spirit coming through me. That’s not acting. That is. That’s just as it is.” And that’s just as it was to Vincent Canby in The New York Times when the film went into national release two months later: “Which brings us to Mr. Busey, who's already been seen in The Last American Hero, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and, most recently, in Straight Time, as Dustin Hoffman's junkie pal. Mr. Busey, tall and slightly awkward, a fellow whose teeth appear to have been grown and not styled, has the look of middle America all over him. He's also capable of making articulate a character who remains inarticulate except in his music. He's not only an actor who possesses a center of gravity – of intelligence – but he's also a pop musician (professional name: Teddy Jack Eddy) who understands the mysterious (to the rest of us) transformation that takes place during a performance.” Busey’s transformational work scored a much-deserved Academy Award® nomination and the National Society of Film Critics Award as Best Actor, while veteran arranger Joe Renzetti, who coached Busey, co-starring bandmates Don Stroud and Charles Martin Smith in recreating the Holly style, earned the Oscar® for Best Adaptation Score. The energy and dynamism of Holly’s music and Busey’s dedication to channeling it is fully captured in the irresistibly entertaining The Buddy Holly Story on TT hi-def Blu-ray, which also features Rash and Busey on an engaging Audio Commentary track. You can recreate the electrifying intensity the first audiences discovered on a May night in Houston here: http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/27570/THE-BUDDY-HOLLY-STORY-1978/.