Taglines: Talent made him a star, fate made him a legend. The true story of Ritchie Valens.
This is the true story of Ritchie Valens, a young rock and roll singer who tragically died in a plane crash at age 17. The film follows Ritchie from his days in Pacoima, California where he and his family make a meager living working on farms to his rise as a star. The film also focuses on Ritchie’s friendship and rivalry with his older brother Bob Morales and his relationship with Donna Ludwig, his girlfriend.
La Bamba is a 1987 American biographical film written and directed by Luis Valdez that follows the life and career of Chicano rock ‘n’ roll star Ritchie Valens. The film stars Lou Diamond Phillips as Valens, Esai Morales, Rosanna DeSoto, Elizabeth Peña, Danielle von Zerneck, and Joe Pantoliano. The film depicts the effect Valens’ career had on the lives of his half-brother Bob Morales, his girlfriend Donna Ludwig and the rest of his family.
Richard Steven Valenzuela (Phillips) is a normal teenage boy who becomes a rock ‘n’ roll superstar under the stage name Ritchie Valens. He meets and falls in love with fellow high school student Donna Ludwig (von Zerneck), for whom he wrote a song that became a number two hit (“Donna”). However, Donna’s father is shown as having issues with his daughter dating a Mexican-American, which causes friction between Ritchie and Donna. The movie also has several subplots, such as his relationship with his mother Connie Valenzuela (DeSoto) and half-brother Bob Morales (Esai Morales), and the jealousy Bob felt toward Ritchie’s success.
In one scene, Bob wins an important art contest that helps promising cartoonists, only to throw away his prize because, in his mind, his mother does not seem to care enough. Bob resorts to drinking heavily and, at one point, leads him to yelling in a drunken rage in front of his mother’s door, “I want to see my daughter!” in reference to the child he sired with Ritchie’s first girlfriend Rosie (Peña).
However, when they get an opportunity, Ritchie and Bob sneak out for a good time. On one occasion, they take a road trip to Tijuana, visiting one of the local clubs where Ritchie discovers the song that would eventually become his signature song, “La Bamba”. Unlike the portrayal in the movie, the outing to Tijuana was actually a family trip.
The film also focuses on Ritchie’s aviophobia (fear of flying), triggered by a recurring dream he has as a result of a midair collision between two planes that actually occurred directly over Ritchie’s school, in which Ritchie’s best friend was crushed to death by one of the fallen aircraft (Ritchie was absent from school that day to attend his grandfather’s funeral).
At first, Ritchie manages to avoid flying to his concerts and appearances; but he must eventually conquer his fear when invited to perform his song “Donna” on American Bandstand. Ritchie’s record producer and manager, Bob Keane (Pantoliano), helps him by giving him a little vodka to calm his nerves during the flight to Philadelphia for the Bandstand appearance.
La Bamba (1987)
Directed by: Luis Valdez
Starring: Lou Diamond Phillips, Esai Morales, Rosanna DeSoto, Elizabeth Peña, Danielle von Zerneck, Joe Pantoliano, Rick Dees, Marshall Crenshaw
Screenplay by: Luis Valdez
Production Design by: Vincent M. Cresciman
Cinematography by: Adam Greenberg
Film Editing by: Don Brochu, Sheldon Kahn
Costume Design by: Sylvia Vega-Vasquez, Yvonne Cervantes
Set Decoration by: Rosemary Brandenburg
Music by: Miles Goodman, Carlos Santana
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release Date: July 24, 1987