Viewer Guide: The Buddy Holly Story and Before Midnight

May 22, 2020 | Richard Peña


The Buddy Holly Story (1978)

This week’s classic is The Buddy Holly Story, the 1978 biopic directed by Steve Rash.

A pioneering film in the enduringly popular genre of the rock & roll biography, The Buddy Holly Story stars Gary Busey in an Oscar-nominated performance as the seminal singer-songwriter whose music has influenced a Who’s Who of superstars despite the extreme brevity of his career.  While taking a number of factual liberties, the movie traces Holly’s meteoric rise over three momentous years beginning in 1956, with the 19 year-old native of Lubbock, Texas, practicing in his parent’s garage with band mates played by Don Stroud and Charles Martin Smith.  Calling themselves “The Crickets”—an impromptu name inspired by a cricket embedded in some homemade soundproofing—the trio receives an early invitation from Nashville that inspires high hopes of hitting the big time.  But the group soon encounters pressure to stick with a country sound despite the rhythm & blues energy that’s ingrained in Holly’s musical DNA.  It isn’t until a New York City record label achieves a surprise hit with an unauthorized release of “That’ll Be the Day” that the group really starts to take off.  And in the years before a national momentum for the Civil Rights movement, white and black listeners alike—including a surprised audience at Harlem’s Apollo Theater—often assume the band was an African American group from the south.  A former drummer in his early career, Busey performed all his songs live rather than lip-syncing to recordings.


Before Midnight (2013)

This week’s indie is Before Midnight, a 2013 romantic drama directed by Richard Linklater.

Before Midnight is the third in a trilogy of movies directed by Richard Lanklater that began in 1995 with Before Sunrise, which originates the story of Jesse and Céline, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, college students who first meet on a train to Vienna. When Jesse convinces Céline to hop off the train with him, they spend the night wandering through the city before he catches his flight back to America the next day. As they walk and talk, the duo embarks on a non-stop conversation filled with flirtation, philosophical discussion and personal revelations before parting ways in the morning with the promise to re-connect in six months. That promise went unfulfilled for nine years until 2004, when Linklater resumed the couple’s story in Before Sunset, picking up with the duo in Paris as Jesse is on a book tour to promote his best-selling novel inspired by their night in Vienna, setting the stage for an unexpected reunion.

In tonight’s film Before Midnight, while still not actually married, Jesse and Céline are now a longtime couple and the parents of twin girls, living in Paris but on a summer vacation in Greece. Still a successful novelist, Jesse is on bad terms with his American ex-wife, and increasingly tormented about not playing a larger role in their son’s adolescent life. Feeling both enthralled and overwhelmed by motherhood, Céline is struggling with a decision to accept a new job, all the while harboring a resentment of Jesse’s domination of their life together. Consisting of a series of circuitous conversations, Before Midnight may be low on traditional plot structure, but overflows with authentic insights on contemporary relationships—a modern day “battle of the sexes” that’s equal parts comic, dramatic and contemplative. In a day that begins with a bittersweet farewell and segues into a romantic getaway that boomerangs into a hurtful argument, will Jesse and Céline still be able to patch things up “before midnight” rolls around?

With Before Midnight being the current culmination of three feature films following the same characters played by the same actors over an 18-year span, writer-director Richard Linklater is one of the most prominent auteurs in a new generation of filmmakers who seem to consider the passage of time as an ally rather than an opponent who must be checked. Rather than resorting to the customary techniques of make-up, hair styling and lighting to either age or rejuvenate an actor—or as we’re now seeing in films like The Irishman, employing CGI effects—Linklater lets Father Time do the job himself, often with years-long pauses between production periods. While it’s true that reality must intrude and not everyone has 20 years to make a movie, Linklater’s “slow cooker” approach received an especially enthusiastic response in 2014 with BOYHOOD, the Oscar-nominated film chronicling a boy’s life that Linklater filmed over a 12-year period. Despite the impression of continuous improvisation that characterizes all three films, the scripts are actually the result of an intricate collaboration between Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Linklater was inspired to write the first script from his own experience meeting a young woman while traveling from New York to Philadelphia in 1989, but who was killed in a motorcycle accident six months before the release of Before Sunrise in 1995, a sad fact that Linklater did not discover until 2010. Among Linklater’s upcoming projects is a movie adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along, which tells its story in a reverse chronology and that Linklater plans to shoot over a 20-year period.

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