Rock historians and hard-core Buddy Holly fans can and do take issue with director Steve Rash's 1978 biopic of the Lubbock, Texas, rocker's life: the script liberally juggles details from Holly's brief but blazing career, replacing producer Norman Petty and Holly's original bassist and drummer with fictionalized composite characters. Yet the core of the film, and the reason it's definitely worth a look and listen, is Gary Busey's lusty performance in the title role, triumphing against what might have seemed miscasting.
The burly, lantern-jawed Busey steps into the lankier, narrow-faced Holly's blue suede shoes and dances off with the movie. At a time when live rock albums thought little of overdubbing mistakes in the studio, director Rash honored Busey's nervy gamble in performing these songs live, singing in his own raw voice and rumbling through his own approximations of Holly's guitar work. What's lost in precise verisimilitude is more than compensated by Busey's conviction and a palpable, almost ecstatic terror as he charges through Holly's wonderful songs before indifferent roller-rink audiences.
Other films have nailed the period more accurately through art direction or script, but Busey's authentic energy gives this movie an emotional veracity that's just right for this chapter in rock history. Still, for musical purposes, go straight to the source, Holly's wonderful recordings.--Sam Sutherland