Flight into Rock History

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Published: Feb 03 2015, 01:01:am

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


     John Milner, the James Dean-like character played by Paul LeMat in 1973's American Graffiti, said it best. "Rock and roll's been going downhill ever since Buddy Holly died."
    Don McLean, the singer-songwriter best known for his nearly nine-minute-long folk-rock ballad American Pie (1972), captured the grief that followed the sad news in the repeated lyric "the day the music died."

    That day is recalled at the conclusion of two memorable musical movie biographies. First came 1978's The Buddy Holly Story. Playing the Texas-born Holly earned Texas-born Gary Busey his one and only Oscar nomination. His companions on the final flight, Richie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, were played by non-name actors Gilbert Melgar and Gailard Sartain.

    Nine years later, La Bamba (1987) offered Lou Diamond Phillips as Richie Valens in a film that used the California-born teen pop star's fear of flying as a foreshadowing device throughout. Again, the co-stars in the ill-fated Winter Dance Party Tour, Holly and Richardson, are bit parts for actors Marshall Crenshaw and Stephen Lee.

    Surprisingly (to me, anyway), no one has bothered to adapt the Big Bopper's story for either the movies or TV. The writer of such chart-topping pop hits as
Chantilly Lace, Purple People Eater (both 1958), White Lightning and Running Bear (both 1959), Richardson is often credited with coining the phrase "music video." He deserves to be remembered as something other than a footnote to the stories of others.

    In the meantime, there remains much to do in stocking the film archive that is Reeling Back. My ten most recent additions to it were:

A WINTER TAN — Self-destructive American feminist icon Maryse Holder is remembered in this 1987 Canadian feature filmed in Mexico, a picture made memorable by the all-stops-out performance from the irrepressible Jackie Burroughs (Posted February 2)

THE LITTLE MERMAIDSong of the Sea, one of the five cartoons nominated for the 2015 best animated feature Oscar, tells the story of a selkie. That makes Saoirse, the new film's heroine, a distant cousin of Ariel, the fish-tailed songstress featured in this 1989 Disney musical adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen tale. (Posted February 1)

GANDHI — The subject of renewed controversy in India, political extremist Nathuram Godse is remembered as the man who murdered the Mahatma. The assassination occurs in the opening moments of Richard Attenborough's 1982 biographical epic. (Posted January 30)

W.C. FIELDS (books about) — On the occasion of his 135th birthday, I restored my review of four books honouring his memory that were published in the early 1970s: A Flask of Fields, Drat, The Art of W.C. Fields and his mistress's memoir, W.C. Fields and Me. (Posted January 29)

UNFORGIVEN — Currently nominated for a best picture Oscar, director Clint Eastwood's American Sniper is now at the centre of a controversy about "glorifying" an assassin who killed for his country. Eastwood appears to have been thinking about just such issues when he made this 1992 Oscar-winning Western. (Posted January 28)

AND GOD CREATED WOMAN — Roger Vadim, who made his big screen directorial debut in 1956 with the French-language Et Dieu . . . crea la femme, shot this not-quite remake in the U.S. in 1988. His last theatrical feature, it failed to do for its star, Rebecca De Mornay, what the earlier film had done for Brigitte Bardot. (Posted January 26)    

COLD FRONT — Although director Allan Goldstein insisted that his name be removed from the credits, I've always had a special place in my heart for this outrageously silly thriller, a film based on the lunatic premise that Vancouver is the designated vacation paradise for the world's spies. (Posted January 24)

OUR FEATURE FILM FEST: 7 — In Part 7 of a 20-part series, Reeling Back continues its restoration of the 1997 Greater Vancouver Book Feature Film Festival, with notes on eight feature film sequels in a program called Encores. (Posted January 22)

MULHOLLAND DR. — The closest I've come to producing an academic paper, this 2004 piece was written for a friend who asked me to explain the "10 Clues" that director David Lynch included in the liner notes to the DVD release of this stylized 2001 mystery movie. (Posted January 20)    

DUNE — Inspired by the life and times of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), author Frank Herbert reworked the history into a best-selling science-fiction novel. In 1988, director David Lynch produced this fine, neo-baroque screen adaptation. (Posted January 20)