Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY and FOLLOW THAT DREAM on Blu-ray ""

Saturday, August 16, 2014


THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (1978; Steve Rash)
Gary Busey has been reduced to a joke nowadays and it is rather unfortunate. He's become a garish, cartoon of his former self and it's truly a shame because he was a remarkable talent at one point. What's even sadder is that I don't feel like he was given enough opportunities, even in his prime, to showcase his abilities. I remember seeing him in STRAIGHT TIME and being floored by his small but excellent dramatic performance. Being used to later era Busey, I was unaware I had it in him. Later on, I saw BIG WEDNESDAY and though it wasn't as dramatic and Busey was allowed to play a bit more of a wildman, I started to get a sense of the actor he used to be. In the midst of poking around online to research Busey's career, I came across this 2003 interview with him wherein he discusses being cast in THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY and what a big deal it was:
One amazing and noteworthy detail about THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY is that Busey and his band mates sang themselves and played their own instruments during the filming of the movie. That's basically unheard of especially today, but it only enhances the vibe and energy of the movie. Both the opening and closing scenes of the film feature extended musical performance sequences by Busey and crew and that is not only a wonderful choice stylistically, but also brings the vivacity of the whole thing to another level altogether. It is really a beautiful sight to behold. This was one of the earliest examples of this process of actors playing and being recorded during the scenes that occurred in movies (at least according to director Steve Rash). Once you've seen THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY, you will not dispute that the live-on camera performance aspect of it was an inspired choice and one that makes the movie unforgettable. It also adds to the overall "real" feel of the scenes and the characters. That authenticity is quite lovely and affecting. It really pulls you into the story in a way that many other musical biopics do not.
Steve Rash (CAN'T BUY ME LOVE) is another big part of the reason this movie is as good as it is. He opens the film with a steadicam shot that should look somewhat familiar to fans of P.T. Anderson. I say this mostly be issue it reminds me a lot of Anderson's opening shot to BOOGIE NIGHTS. Both that film and THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY start with a high angle shot of of the outside of a venue and then drop down and track to the front door and go inside. Rash brings in another cool steadicam shot about half way through the film when Buddy and his band are about to take the stage at the Apollo Theater. Both are pretty neat looking shots and this movie doesn't get much credit for its early use of the technology. John Carpenter gets mentioned a lot in terms of that with HALLOWEEN and I have to admit I myself had forgotten about the camerawork in BUDDY HOLLY STORY too. Interestingly, both films were made on very low budgets (BUDDY HOLLY only had around $1 million to get it all done).
So as I said, the movie opens with that shot that tracks into the roller rink where Buddy and his band are playing a remote radio gig. The music Buddy is playing in that roller rink is not well liked by the older folks of Lubbock Texas (though their kids seem to love it). They call it "jungle music" and see it as the potential downfall of society. What it comes down to is racism and associating rhythm and blues and rock and roll with a lesser class of people in the eyes of these townsfolk in 1956. It blows my mind that there was a time when the sound and tempo of a stye of music was enough to incite rage in a certain kind of close minded person. I also find it a fascinating thing that there was a time when one man and his two band mates could come up with a special unique sound that was not like anything that anybody had ever heard white people playing at the time. Not only was Buddy's music revolutionary, but so was his process. The business of recording music in 1956 was a complex thing. It involved songwriters, artists, arrangers and producers. Buddy's method of circumventing all those roles flies in the face of said process, but he ends up pulling it off. Being that this film is music centric and features actor Charles Martin Smith (and is set in a similar time period) it seems like a sort of sister film to AMERICAN GRAFFITI. I'm absolutely a fan of both movies, but of course THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY is greatly underseen in comparison. Biopics in general are much maligned. I can see why, but people have a tendency to forget that there have been some very good ones. This story is absolutely compelling and is carried along by a dynamite portrayal by Gary Busey. 

Special Features:
Included on this disc is a commentary track with Gary Busey and Director Steve Rash. It's excellent to hear these two reminisce about the making of the movie, the locations and other actors and crew members they worked with. Both gentlemen are clearly having a good time talking about everything that's going on in front of them (the commentary is pretty screen-specific) and have lots of stories surrounding each and every scene. Busey in particular surprised me with his outstanding memory for little details of the production and its timeline. He even remembers a ton of people's names from the crew which was also quite impressive (especially because I kind of half expected him to not recall much of anything). Busey also shares a cool story about Buddy Holly having written "That'll Be the Day" after having seen THE SEARCHERS at a drive-in which was neat to hear.

As a little added bonus to this review, I've posted screenwriter Josh Olson's Trailers From Hell commentary below:

FOLLOW THAT DREAM (1962; Gordon Douglas)
Two things that caught my eye during the credits of FOLLOW THAT DREAM: first was the Mirisch Company name and Gordon Douglas' name as director. The Mirisch Company was of course run by the great Walter Mirisch and though they produced a lot of great films over the years (WEST SIDE STORY, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT), I'll always remember them most fondly for their collaborations with Billy Wilder on such classics as THE APARTMENT, SOME LIKE IT HOT, ONE TWO THREE, and a few others. The Mirisch Company would also dabble in the Elvis business the very same year as FOLLOW THAT DREAM with his boxing movie, KID GALAHAD. 

Gordon Douglas is something of an enigma director that I've only become acutely aware of in the last few years. The breadth and length of his filmography is pretty striking. He did some of the GILDERSLEEVE comedies in the 1940s, a great noir film (KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE) with Jimmy Cagney in 1950, and in 1954 he did my favorite of all his films with THEM!, the giant killer ant/atomic scare flick. He would go on to work with Sinatra several times (ROBIN AND THE SEVEN HOODS, TONY ROME, LADY IN CEMENT, THE DETECTIVE), and also did a variety of westerns throughout his career. I kind of think of him as a Howard Hawks type because of the variety of films he made. Though his movies were never at the level of Hawks quality, Douglas was a man of many genres and that's pretty neat.  Funnily enough, Charles Lederer (the screenwriter on FOLLOW THAT DREAM) also famously worked with Howard Hawks on HIS GIRL FRIDAY, I WAS A MALE WAR BRIDE, MONKEY BUSINESS and GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES. 
FOLLOW THAT DREAM is a light-hearted and whimsical romantic comedy about a family unit that finds themselves as modern day homesteaders on some land right off of a Florida highway. They are a ragtag bunch of vagabonds who end up in a situation that puts them at odds with a lot of bureaucratic forces and some gangsters too. 
From the very first shot of the family's overloaded old car, I was immediately reminded of The Beverly Hillbillies for some reason. I might have even said "Beverly Hillbillies!" out loud without thinking about it. There are definitely some comparisons one could make and it's interesting to me to notice that FOLLOW THAT DREAM hit theaters in April of 1962, whilst THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES first aired on television in September of the same year. Being that the family is camped out on a beach, I was also reminded slightly of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND as well (which wouldn't land on TV until 1964). Not saying that either show owes anything to FOLLOW THAT DREAM, but my pop-culture obsessed mind couldn't help but go there. Anyhow, the film is a pleasant little excursion and one of the better Elvis movies I've seen (and it is stunning just how many he made!). It has this lovely buoyant personality to it and it's hard to walk away from it feeling anything but charmed.

Here's a neat little tour of the locations of FOLLOW THAT DREAM:
Oh and here's a fun little bit of trivia that I found on Wikipedia: "During filming, Elvis met Tom Petty, who was only 11 years old at the time. Petty's uncle was involved in the production of the movie. Shortly afterwards, Petty swapped his slingshot for a friend's collection of Elvis records.
Knowing this, one might credit this movie in some ways with being a huge influence on Petty's musical career so for that, I am unfathomably grateful.

Both THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY and FOLLOW THAT DREAM are available via Screen Archives:

1 comment:

Will Errickson said...

Busey probably can't remember what he had for breakfast but I'm damn sure he remembers every moment of filming BUDDY HOLLY.