- New introduction by director Taylor Hackford
- 54 minutes of rehearsal footage
- The Reluctant Movie Star making-of documentary
- Witnesses to History documentary Parts 1 & 2
- "Chuckisms" - a collection of classic Chuck Berry remarks
- "The Burnt Scrapbook" - Chuck Berry reminisces over his musical memories with The Bands Robbie Robertson
Chuck Berry - Hail! Hail! Rock N' Roll
Ultimate Collector's Edition, Collector's Edition
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The unforgettable life and music of pioneering legend Chuck Berry are celebrated in this landmark feature film, capturing a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of rock and roll's finest! In 1986, Keith Richards invited a roster of musicians to honor Berry for an evening of music to commemorate his 60th birthday, including performances by Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Linda Rondstadt, Etta James and Julian Lennon, along with footage of an unforgettable duet by Chuck and John Lennon! Also featuring interviews with many of the original creators of rock and roll: Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Roy Orbison, Bo Diddley, The Everly Bros, and Willy Dixon. This dynamite crowd pleaser from director Taylor Hackford (Ray) will keep your toes tapping and your soul rocking all night long! ROCKING EXTRAS! 54 minutes of never-before-seen Chuck Berry rehearsals in DTS and 5.1 audio, featuring Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Johnnie Johnson, Chuck Lavell and Etta James! "Witness to History," featuring Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry together for the first time; "The Burnt Scrapbook," with Chuck Berry and Robbie Robertson revealing the remains of Chuck's collection of musical memories; "Chuckisms," a collection of classic Chuck Berry remarks; "Witness to History 2," an amazing 3-and-a-half hour look at the birth of rock music with Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison and more!
Two distinct portraits of Chuck Berry emerge in this lavish four-disc set built around Hail! Hail! Rock n' Roll, director Taylor Hackford's 1986 documentary/concert film. On one side there's the Berry who wrote a catalogue's worth of genre-defining songs ("Maybellene," "Johnny B. Goode," "Roll Over Beethoven," and so many others), all of them filled with wit, delightful stories, and poetry. He's also the guitarist who virtually patented many of rock's seminal licks, and the showman who attracted some top musicians to celebrate his 60th birthday with a concert in St. Louis, his hometown. On the other hand, there's the Berry who, in the course of the film as well as the accompanying bonus material, emerges as a prickly cheapskate who drove the filmmakers and musicians nuts with his absurd demands and unpredictable behavior. Together they make a fascinating look at the guy who justifiably calls himself "the father of rock 'n' roll."
Hackford's original film, now issued with a crisp, anamorphic transfer and digital sound, occupies Disc One. A parade of classics are heard during the climactic concert, performed by Berry and a superb band (led by Keith Richards and featuring guitarist Robert Cray and Johnny Johnson, Berry's original pianist, among others), with guest shots by Eric Clapton (smoking on the slow blues "Wee Wee Hours"), Etta James, Linda Ronstadt, and Julian Lennon (whose dad was an unabashed Berry fan). There are revealing offstage glimpses, too, like Berry confessing that he only took up music full-time because there was more money in it than in housepainting, or a weary, wasted Richards admitting that "I was mad to take the gig" but gamely standing up to his idol at every turn (watch for a memorable moment during the very first song of the concert, when Chuck attempts to change key in mid-tune and Keith sternly shakes him off).
The three discs of bonus features add a lot more to the portrait. Much of it is terrific: A nostalgic Berry poring over his scrapbook with Robbie Robertson of the Band; some lengthy rehearsal jams with Clapton, Richards, and James; hours (literally) of convivial conversation with Little Richard, Bo Diddley, and other rock pioneers. But if you're the type who can't turn away from car wrecks, don't miss "The Reluctant Movie Star," an hour-long "making of" documentary, for it's here that Hackford and the others who worked on the film tell their war stories. The Chuck Berry they know demanded to be paid every day, in cash, or he'd refuse to be filmed. He showed up for a dinner meeting at L.A.'s posh Le Dome with a bag of McDonald's takeout. And two days before the St. Louis concert, he announced that he was leaving town for a gig in Ohio, where he proceeded to blow out his voice--so his vocals all had to be overdubbed after the fact (an extra payday, natch). Hail! Hail! Rock n' Roll was already an entertaining two hours. But the various extra material, none of it seen before and all of it introduced by Hackford, makes this "ultimate collector's addition" a must-have. --Sam Graham
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What makes this work so worthwhile is that its four discs cover a great deal of territory. Disc # 1 is the concert film. Disc # 2 features some rehearsals plus a video on the "making of the concert," with illuminating glimpses of the complex person who is Chuck Berry. Discs # 3 and # 4 feature reflections by some of the founders of rock and roll (Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, for instance), a conversation between Robbie Robertson and Berry, and so on.
The first disc is the concert film. It opens with some background on Chuck Berry, including a rendering of his early singing at the "Cosmo" in East St. Louis, with Berry actually singing in the wreck of the old building that remained. He retained his work as a carpenter and painter until the money from singing made it safe to give up those trades. Nice bits include: Bo Diddley and Little Richard talking about Berry's and their role in early rock and roll; Bruce Springsteen talking of the one time when he and his band backed Berry in a concert. Keith Richards was the musical director of this effort, culminating in a concert at the Fox Theatre. The disc amply portrays the sometime tension between Richards and Berry and the sometimes bond between them. There is also a nice bit, with Eric Clapton wondering about the forces leading to Berry's mercurial behavior. There are also nice interviews with Willie Dixon (who sometimes backed Berry on recordings) and Berry's family and Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison..
The concert itself? It includes nice versions of many of Berry's greatest hits (although it must be noted that he had little voice left, after having blown his voice out in a gig just before the concert itself; he rerecorded his singing later on, so that the concert as recorded does not give us his singing at the concert itself--but a later recording). Some of the songs: "Roll over Beethoven," "Back in the USA" (sung by Linda Ronstadt), "Sweet Little Sixteen," Johnny B. Goode" (sung by Julian Lennon), "Rock and Roll Music" (rollickingly sung by Etta James), and so on.
As a concert film, it is top notch, well worth exploring (despite the need to have Berry rerecord his singing at a later date to be dubbed into the film).
Disc # 2 is also exemplary. It begins with several rehearsal cuts. There is a guitar jam to start, with Richards, Clapton, and Berry taking turns at guitar licks. There is a bit that is very nice where Johnnie Johnson (one of Berry's original band mates when he was starting out) starts vamping on piano; Clapton and others join in; Berry returns to the stage from the audience and sings a great blues turn. Finally, Etta James does a wonderful job in "Hootchie Cootchie Gal."
There follows a film about the making of the concert. One gets a much clearer picture of Berry-the-person, warts and all. His mania for money is well portrayed. The difficulties in preparing for the concert and in filming aspects of the concert film are worth viewing. There is a nice discussion of the alpha male conflict between Richards and Berry. There is measured discussion of Berry's times in prison. All in all, an illuminating disc.
This review is already too long, so Discs # 3 and # 4 are not covered. But they, too, add heft to the understanding of Chuck Berry and the origins of rock and roll.
A very well done opus.
If you don't already have this 2007 Re-Issue of this great film then do yourself a favor.
The film is spectacular as is the Chuck Berry interviews and also interviews with Bo Didley and Little Richard.
I can't emphasize how good this is as a music concert, documentary and artifact of real rock and roll.
The 2nd DVD contains a wealth of out-takes and further revealing interviews.
The film is very well mastered in both the audio and visual departments. I watched it in DTS 5.1, and it was keeping all of my speakers busy. For the purists, the film can also be heard in the original stereo rendering. The film has been out there and is well known, so there is not much to say other than that you can't see a better version of it on your T.V. than this DVD. This is a warts and all review of Chuck Berry, and while he can come off a brash and egotistical there is true hero worship from those that used him as the mould for their own music.
The extras... Wow, I can't believe that some of this stuff has sat unseen for a couple of decades! The rehearsal footage is spectacular and if you consider yourself a student / aficionado of the blues, you must own the second disc in this two-disc set. The director introduces each sequence with a short narrative about how it came about, and unlike some director commentaries, this is actually interesting. For example, world-class piano player and former Berry partner Jonnie Johnson was found driving busses and recruited into the sessions for the movie. Then the music plays. Chuck Berry playing off of Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jonnie Johnson in a loose informal setting is worth the price of the whole set.
This is a must-have DVD for fans of the blues and rock and roll. After viewing the extras, I now wonder if I should have went for the 4-disc set. Something tells me I just might be doing just that.
Amended on July 6th...
O.K., I screwed up. To save a couple of bucks, and sure that 4 discs are too many for this subject; I bought and reviewed (above) the 2-disc set. After viewing it, I was so impressed that I bought the 4-disc set from Amazon as soon as I had posted that review. After viewing discs 3 and 4, I can say that potential buyers of this product should go ahead and buy the 4-disc set. It is a false economy to save a couple of bucks while depriving yourself of the extras that you would have missed on the third and forth discs.