"La Bamba", tells the story of Ritchie Valens, the gifted young singer who died, age 17, in a February 3, 1959 plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, together with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. I was young at the time but I knew Valens' songs "Donna" and "La Bamba" and have remembered them since. I hadn't seen this 1987 film until now. I was moved to remember my youth, to think of Ritchie Valens again, and to hear his music.
Ritchie was born Richard Steven Valenzuela to Mexican immigrants who worked as farm laborers in southern California. The movie shows Ritchie's relationship to his mother and his sibling rivalry with his older brother. It shows his high school sweetheart Donna -- the girl that Ritchie immortalized in song. There is an outstanding soundtrack with the music of the day and excellent brief portrayals of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, Eddie Cochran, Jackie Wilson, and Allan Freed. But the highlight of the film is Ritchie Valens and his music. Ritchie loved music and rock and roll. He says more than once in the film that music was what he was born to do -- a dedication as important to rock as to classical music or any other form of the art. The movie features "Donna" and "La Bamba", which I knew in 1959 as well as "We belong together" and "Come on Let's Go" which I didn't know until later.
The film is included in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress and deemed worthy of preservation for its cultural, historic, or aesthetic significance. It is, indeed, all three.
This is a sad film about the life of a young man of talent and about the love of music. After watching the film and hearing Ritchie's songs performed by Los Lobos, I listened again to Ritchie's own performances. I was glad to see this movie at last for itself and to remember old times and songs forever young. "La Bamba" is a fitting tribute to Ritchie Valens.