At first, it looked as if "The Buddy Holly Story" was going to be a Misunderstood Artist picture. There was the young musician in Small Town, Texas, 1952, all plastic eyeglasses and embarrassed gummy smile, squirming in church as his music is denounced from the pulpit for being "unChristian, un-American, a threat to our morals and a threat to our society."
But suffering for being ahead of one's time is a hard thing to pin on a rock'n'roll man, however early he started rocking'n'rolling. Yes, there was some early opposition to this music, even bigotry because it was identified with "Negro music." Still, one can hardly weep over the difficulties with popular-commercial acceptance, in connection with rock'n'roll.
One reason this tack may have been convenient is that Buddy Holly's life, however significant to his fans, contains little of the stuff of drama. Yes, he died young, in an airplane crash in 1959. But it's difficult to make a James Dean sort of cult-symbolism out of an accident disrupting a steadily successful life. After those initial troubles, Holly's career went smoothly and well as did, by available accounts, his conventional marriage.
Fred Bauer and Steve Rash, the producer and director who also wrote the story, have therefore shown admirable taste and restraint by not blowing up the Misunderstood theme, or other potential conflicts, such as his courtship problems with a chaperoned Puerto Rican girl or his falling out with his original band. Even - especially - his sudden death is handled with scrupulous care. We do not see the crash, neither the plane going down nor the faces of those aboard when they may have realized what was happening; we do not see the anguished, pregnant young widow, nor the mourning fans. The films ends at Holly's last concert, with the picture freezing and his death explained in a superimposed legend.
Now - having given up all these easy opportunities for flashy drama, what has the film got left?
Of course it has the music. Gary Busey, who plays Holly, was a professional drummer under the name of Teddy Jack Eddy, and much of the film is given over to performances. But in a rash of movies that are nothing more than records with pictures attached, this one stands out for the pictorial dimension it adds to its sound track.
This is the unglamorized - and, one must add, sweet - portrayal by Busey, Don Stroud and Charlie Martin Smith as the other members of his group; Amy Johnston as an early girl friend; Conrad Janis as a record executive, and others as earnest and un-complex characters. (A slight exception is Maria Richwine, who is a little too sweet as Holly's wife, but then, Mrs. Holly, as executrix of the estate, had to approve the film and had vetoed previous offers.)
Pictorially, this has been made up into the visual equivalent of popular music, and it's an enriching accompaniment, in a way that an over-amplified story could never have been.
THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY: Aspin Twin, K-B Georgetown Square, Loehmann's Plaza, Marlow, New Carrollton and Springfield Mall.