Released in 1987, around the same time as Dirty Dancing, Luis Valdez's film chronicling the successful, albeit brief, career of Ritchie Valens, has remained somewhat underexposed in the shadow of that popular chick-flick, given the gradual growth of the Swayze hit to becoming a much-beloved film for hen nights and home parties. A full generation on, given the subject matter, it might hold less appeal to a modern youth audience.
Anyone who has been to a retro night in many a club has probably heard the Los Lobos title track, which hit the top of the charts around the time of the film's release and has become a much-requested part of any retro DJ's playlist.
This new thirtieth anniversary Blu-Ray release through Eureka Entertainment gives La Bamba a welcome renaissance release. Co-produced by Taylor Hackford, with original music by the legendary Carlos Santana, the film is cut from the same cinematic acetate as the likes of the Oscar-winning The Buddy Holly Story (1978) and John Carpenter’s TV movie Elvis (1979), a competently made musical drama that focuses as much on the human relationships as the music the characters created. There is more than enough crossover appeal within La Bamba to satisfy.
The story opens in Northern California in 1957. Ritchie Valens (Lou Diamond Phillips in his official film debut), lives with his mother and ne'er do well brother Bob (Esai Morales, who had previously at that point featured in Sean Penn's acclaimed 1983 youth drama Bad Boys, directed by Rick Rosenthal). Valens is a teenager with great musical talent and big dreams. He auditions and joins a local band called the Silhouettes, but quickly becomes the lead at dance halls and events. Before long, he attracts the attention of a record producer, Bob Keane, (Joe Pantoliano) and records some early demos of what become the likes of “Donna” and “Come On Let’s Go”….
As mentioned, La Bamba might have lost some of it's veneer given that the subject matter may only appeal to a certain generation who fondly remembers the original film - and the original artist. It is a pity if things do go that way with it, as it is a finely-acted drama that treats the characters and the culture with appreciation and affection. Phillips is perfectly cast in the lead as Valens, but it is Morales who steals the show with his highly emotional and charged performance as Valens' brother. Look also for Stray Cats lead guitarist and vocalist Brian Setzer as Eddie Cochrane.
The Blu-Ray contains original music promos from Los Lobos and a mini-featurette, Remembering Ritchie. The cinematography by Terminator’s Adam Greenberg encapsulates the period and the setting perfectly: sunny California climes coupled with stirring 1950s beats.
LA BAMBA - 30TH ANNIVERSARY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: LUIS VALDEZ / STARRING: LOU DIAMOND PHILLIPS, ESAI MORALES, ROSANNA DESOTO, ELIZABETH PEÑA, JOE PANTOLIANO / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW