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Originally filmed in December 1968, "The Rock and Roll Circus" was originally intended to be released as a television special. The special was filmed over two nights and featured not only ... See full summary »
St. Louis, Missouri. For Chuck Berry's 60th birthday, Keith Richards assembles a pickup band of Robert Cray, Joey Spampinato, Eric Clapton, himself, and longtime pianist Johnnie Johnson. Joined on stage by Etta James, Linda Ronstadt and Julian Lennon, Berry performs his classic rock songs. His abilities as a composer, lyricist, singer, musician and entertainer are on display and, in behind-the-scenes interviews, are discussed by Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, Bruce Springsteen and others. There's even a rarity for Berry, a rehearsal. Archival footage from the early 1950s and a duet with John Lennon round out this portrait of a master. Written by
I just happened to catch this for the third or fourth time, and first
time with my wife, on Universal HD today. Taylor Hackford does a
phenomenal job in this movie. Chuck Berry, one of the most complicated
and conflicted figures in the history of rock and pop music is rich
territory and Hackford managed to catch Berry in all of his many guises
unprofessional, difficult, and combative. What really marks this movie
as a superior documentary is Hackford refusal to judge Berry to focus
on just documenting the man and his behavior in a variety of situations
and from a variety of sources. There really is no ax-grinding going on
in this movie and there is no whitewashing - everything is what it is
whether it's Berry in a touching scene with his mother and father or
it's Berry in a petulant rehearsal stare-down with Keith Richards when
Berry isn't getting his way.
Hackford's other great achievement in this movie is the excellent
recording of Berry's 60th Anniversary Concert, the predominate reason
for the whole project and the involvement of other pop/rock music
notables, at St. Louis' Fox Theatre. Backed by Keith Richards, Johnnie
Johnson (Berry's pianist and forgotten early influence), Steve Jordan,
Bobby Keys, Robert Cray, and Joey Spaminato, Berry performs what is
probably his best show in 30 years. Hackford catches the performer's
excitement, the crowd's excitement, and Berry's energy and showmanship
in a way those of us too young to have seen or heard Berry can begin to
understand why he serves a such a seminal influence in pop and rock
The movie is full of entertaining nuggets. Hackford's interviews with
Keith Richards are fascinating. Richards' comments are just insightful
about Berry, the influence of Berry's music, and the influence of
Johnson of Berry's songs; they're also fascinating in just watching and
listening to Richards himself - part mystic, part philosopher, part
drunk. Also particularly interesting is a three-way conversation
between Berry, Little Richard, and Bo Diddly who go into great detail
about their early careers, music, business, and how racism negatively
affected their careers and their recognition as the earliest purveyors
of rock and roll.
I think this movie is interesting regardless of whether your actually
interested in Berry beforehand or not. It is as fine a documentary that
any director could produce and you should watch this movie whenever the
chance presents itself.
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