Chuck Berry - Hail! Hail! Rock N' Roll
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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 great musicians to honor Chuck Berry for an evening of music to commemorate Berry's 60th birthday, including performances by Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Linda Rondstadt, Etta James and Julian Lennon, along with archival footage of an unforgettable duet by Chuck and John Lennon! Also featuring insightful interviews with many of the original creators of rock and roll: Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Roy Orbison, Bo Diddley, The Everly Bros, and Willie Dixon. This dynamite crowd pleaser from director Taylor Hackford (Ray) will keep your toes tapping and your soul rocking all night long! DISC ONE: The feature film, presented in a new anamorphic widescreen transfer with spectacular new DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, plus the original Dolby Stereo theatrical mix with a new introduction to the film by director Taylor Hackford and two theatrical trailers. DISC TWO: 54 minutes of never-before-seen Chuck Berry rehearsals in DTS and 5.1 audio: "Guitar Jam" (with Keith Richards and Eric Clapton), "Mean Old World" (with solos by Eric Clapton, Johnnie Johnson, and Chuck Lavell), "Understand Each Other" (with Eric Clapton), "Hoochie Coochie Gal" (with Etta James), and "Standards Medley" (with Johnnie Johnson)! Plus ... "The Reluctant Movie Star," a one-hour documentary covering the making of the film.
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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.
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.