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If you hear anything bad about this documentary, stop listening. If you don't smile while watching the concert footage, you don't love rock 'n' roll. Betty is a complicated, intelligent, real human being with all the frailties that includes...but he is a generous showman who personifies rock music. If there was any doubt who the father of rock 'n' roll was, with all due respect to the King, there is none after watching this absorbing, if incomplete, biopic about Chuck Berry. Don't rent it - buy it. Today.
I saw this a few years after it came out. The concert footage was filmed in Berry's hometown of St. Louis at the Fox theater on October 18, 1986 on his 60th birthday. It was also the same year the Berry was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in it's inaugural class. Assembeled for the concert are musicians Chuck Levelle, Bobby Keyes, Joey Spampinato and Steve Jordon along with Berry's longtime collaborator and pianist Johnnie Johnson under the musical direction of Keith Richards. Guest performers are Eric Clapton, Etta James, Linda Ronsdat, Robert Cray, Julian Lennon and the guest of honor himself Chuck Berry. Interviews on his career are provided by his rock and roll contemporaries Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Roy Orbison, Bo Diddley and The Everly Brothers. Additional interviews on his inspiration come from Bruce Springsteen and an older clip from John Lennon. Taylor Hackford directed. Hackford won an Academy Award in the short film category with the first project he ever did. In 1980 he began directing feature films and has since only directed 10 films but they include Against all Odds, An Officer and a Gentleman, Delores Claiborn and Ray. As a producer he also did the documentary When We Were Kings. The cinematographer is Oliver Stapleton who had only photographed some Indy films before Haill Haill Rock & Roll but would go on to do such films as Earth Girls Are Easy, The Grifters, The Cider House Rules, Buffalo Soldiers and Pay it Forward. We see Chuck Berry being his controlling, difficult ornery self here and this likely would have been an amazing film if director Hackford was allowed free reign with his camera and Chuck would have allowed a more introspective view into what is Chuck Berry but Berry calls the shots and rocks and music director Richards reels. This is a good documentary and Chuck Berry and 50's rock & Roll fans should check it out. It's amazing to think that this is 20 years gone already and Chuck Berry will be turning 80 this fall. I would give it an 8.0 out of 10.
I don't think many people saw Hail Hail Rock and Roll when it came out
in 1987. I've always considered it one of the greatest Rock and Roll
movies ever made, and actually own it on VHS. Now that it's out on DVD
(4 discs!), I'm working through the bonus discs.
Disc 2 contains a number of rehearsals plus a piece on what a nightmare it was to work with Chuck Berry on this project (which was, after all, to celebrate himself!). In the film, if I remember correctly, Keith Richards says something like, "Man, I've worked with Mick Jagger, but this guy (Chuck) is something else." Now, on this DVD, the producers tell their story, and what a story it is. A lot has been said about the great scene in the movie where Chuck continually criticizes Keith's guitar playing on "Carol", but that is nothing compared to what he put the producers through, between constantly asking for more money, being late or not showing up, plus an incredible experience at one of the prisons where Chuck spent time in his youth. (On the other hand, even in 1987, everyone knew Chuck Berry was a total prima donna, so expecting to get all the filming done in 5 days was a bit of hubris, no?) While this piece is a bit wordy (as many "bonus features" are), it's a great story, and it's too bad there wasn't more film and less shots of people speaking to the camera.
The rehearsals really show the difference between Chuck Berry when he's off stage (picky, self-centered, neurotic) and Chuck when he's performing (a unique entertainer). The rehearsals all take place at Chuck's house, and the main players are Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, and Johnny Johnson. Again, too much "talking heads" between the music, but the point of the rehearsals (we're told, but can also see), is to witness the incredible coming together of the band as they learn to play with each other. That's something you rarely see, particularly with musicians of this caliber, and if you love Chuck Berry music, you'll really love these rehearsals tapes.
On the production side, I thought the sound and camera work was uniformly excellent for the live music parts of the disc.
Disc 3 contains three bonus features. The one I liked most was titled "Chuckisms" and covers Chuck's language and love of poetry. The best scene is with Chuck reciting a William Wordsworth poem from memory while Robbie Robertson strums his guitar. "Just beautiful," as Chuck says several times in the recitation. You can really hear the origin of Chuck's own lyrics.
The second bonus feature has Bo Diddley, Little Richard and Chuck sitting around a piano discussing the early days of rock and roll. This feature touches (very lightly) on the trials of black performers in the 1950's trying to break into the white-dominated business. However, mostly due to the influence of Little Richard, it never really gets very serious. If you're really interested in this period, I recommend Chuck Berry's autobiography.
The last feature on disc 3 is Robbie Robertson and Chuck sitting around the coffee table talking about Chuck's life as they go through a huge scrapbook. This has some poignant moments, but again, only lightly touches on stuff that Chuck's autobiography covers in great detail. I have to wonder if Robbie Robertson knew much about Chuck Berry before sitting down with him. He asks questions like, "Why did you write about high school?", when everyone knows that Chuck wrote about what his fans were interested in, because Chuck himself was mostly interested in making money.
As a result, I think the Robertson interview gives the wrong impression, of Chuck as a genius inventing a new music form. The truth, if you believe the autobiography, is that Chuck had a genius, but it was for being incredibly sensitive to his audiences. When they applauded, he did more of what caused that, and when they didn't, he didn't do that again. Robertson also mis-reads Chuck (I thought it was pretty funny), when he calls Chuck's second prison term, "running into a brick wall". Chuck says, not at all, that's where he took all those business courses that made him into the businessman he is, and as a result, he's rich when many of his contemporaries are not. Robertson also seems amazed that Chuck never took drugs. Chuck replies that with a list of entertainers (Elvis, Janis, etc.) who are now dead, and he does have a point.
I thought the part about why Chuck's lyrics are so easy to hear missed the truth. The truth was that Chuck listened to music, and realized that the guys (white) who were making the money clipped their words distinctly, so he did too. As a result of that (plus a publicity photo that made him look white), Chuck got booked in venues where he could not play when he showed up. Did he mind? Not if he was paid.
So, in summary, disc 3 is exactly what the director promised. They had a lot of footage that didn't make it into the film, for good reason, so they stuck it in the bonus features. I recommend disc 3 for folks who just can't get enough of Chuck Berry. There is almost no music on this disc, but Chuck comes across very well and the mature "Father of Rock and Roll".
If you notice, Keith Richards is drinking during rehearsals and who can blame him?? Chuck Berry must have been a nightmare to deal with, but the concert and film are excellent! Chuck does sound a bit out of tune, but makes up for it with his showmanship. The guest stars are well placed EXCEPT for Julian Lennon. And if I am not mistaken he duets to Jonny B. Goode -- an all time classic. Okay, the guy is the son of a rock legend and had a hit or two, but did he really have a reason to be on stage with Chuck and the band?? Also, why did Chuck cut short the interview with his wife??? Still, a great film that offers insight into a pioneer.
On October, 18th 1986, on the sixtieth birthday of Chuck Berry, there
was a concert at the Fox Theater in his hometown Saint Louis. This
documentary highlights some of the best moments of this concert, with
footages of Chuck Berry playing his famous songs with a unique band
composed by Keith Richards, Johnnie Johnson, Bobby Keys and other great
musicians and the participation of Linda Ronstadt, Julian Lennon,
Robert Cray, Eric Clapton and Etta James among others famous guests. In
this tribute, there are also many interviews and archive footages with
Chuck Berry's parents and siblings, and artists like Little Richard, Bo
Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bruce Springsteen, Roy Orbinson, Keith
Richards, The Everly Brothers, John Lennon, Eric Clapton among others.
There are many compliments, praise and recognition of his magnificent
work from the interviewees; however there are also many obscure moments
that deconstruct the idol. For example, Bruce Springsteen tells about
Chuck Berry's concern with money and no rehearsal with the unknown
local pick up bands before his gigs without any respect to the
audiences and fans. Keith Richards is extremely ambiguous, and tells
about the free physical aggression he suffered from Chuck Berry; and
playing out of the rehearsed tune. Further, I understood that some of
his famous songs actually were composed by Johnnie Johnson, and the
keys adapted by Chuck Berry to the guitar. He manipulates many
questions, like for example for his wife, and never mentions that he
went to jail for tax evasion. Therefore it is a wonderful documentary
of Chuck Berry as a player and singer; but regarding his behavior out
of stage, I would dare to write that he seems to have at least a weird
and egocentric personality. Therefore better off would be watching the
concert without the additional footages. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll"
To hear Bruce Springsteen say he first heard Chuck Berry via the music
of the Stones makes me feel ancient. I was thirteen when I first heard
Chuck Berry on a car radio in 1955 jamming out "Maybelline," the first
true rock song I had ever heard. This was before the King, Elvis,
signed with RCA and popularized the rock 'n' roll sound for us all.
In celebration of his sixtieth birthday, Chuck, with the help of friends, rocks out with many of his creations. The Berry rifts are still fast and furious but there is now an air of cynicism that was absent at the creation. Those unfamiliar with the early Berry sound should check out the original recordings to hear Chuck wail out his affirmation of youth and beauty. "Sweet Little Sixteen" was written and performed by Chuck Berry when he was thirty two years old; yet the rocker captures the innocence and lust of being young and carefree. Chuck continued through his music to invent many of the terms and lingo of the youth culture taking shape at the time. The only other recording artist of the day to even come close to Chuck Berry's lyrics of teen angst and a vocabulary to accompany it was Carl Perkins.
Chuck Berry was a seminal artist in the early history of rock 'n' roll. His approach was revolutionary, not just rebellious. Listen to the words of "Roll Over Beethoven." Chuck is stating emphatically that the new movement in American music is not merely a fad as critics would have it but a complete overhaul in musical standards: "...and tell Tschaikowsky the news."
One of the highlights of "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll" is seeing and hearing the three pioneers of early rock exchanging barbs and ideas with each other. Bo Diddley, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry discuss the white cover versions of black songs so prevalent in the record industry of the 1950's. Bo Diddley tries to keep an open mind about it all, for example, saying that Dick Clark couldn't showcase a mixed dance crowd on his "American Bandstand" because the producers wouldn't permit it. Little Richard interjects humor into the proceedings when he talks about white-shoes Pat Boone crooning "Tutti Frutti," making the salacious lyrics, "Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom," sound like light opera. Little Richard comments with a smile that he got over Pat Boone bowdlerizing "Tutti Frutti" only to have him expropriate "Long Tall Sally" ducking back in the alley. Chuck Berry, on the other hand, is militant and angry about the theft of property by the white record producers from black artists.
Chuck Berry has good reason to be so adamant in his denunciation of the racial overtones that existed in the record business of the 50's, for he suffered not just monetary loss as a result; his private life suffered too. Chuck wouldn't talk about his run-ins with the law for director Taylor Hackford, saying that he would discuss it in its proper context but not across an office desk. Chuck made a fantastic comeback in 1964 following a prison term resulting from a setup engineered by the government. Since Chuck refuses to comment on it, we may never know for sure exactly what happened.
One of Chuck's songs that stands out today is "Too Much Monkey Business." When Chuck recorded this in 1956, it represented, to my knowledge, the first rock 'n' roll protest song, several years before Bob Dylan would turn the rock world around with his protest-oriented music. Only one other protest rock song of any significance came out during the early days of rock 'n' roll. That was the Coasters' "What About Us?" not nearly as good as "Too Much Monkey Business."
There are better rock concert films around, the quintessence being "The Last Waltz," but this is the only place where rock fans can get a glimpse of the legendary Chuck Berry in all his glory accompanied by some of the best musicians in the business. It's easy to understand why NASA put "Johnny B. Goode" on the Voyager Golden Record as the best example of American Rock 'n' Roll.
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
- charming, professional, intelligent, thoughtful, bitter, petulant,
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 music.
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.
If you were young when rock-and-roll was young, then you will probably
enjoy this; if you were not young at that time, then this would give
you a bit of history. Even though I was not around for the era of the
big bands, seeing movies like "The Glenn Miller Story" or listening to
some Artie Shaw or Tommy Dorsey gave me an appreciation for the music
of a previous generation, and an understanding that those of that
generation are not hopelessly antiquated.
The bulk of the movie is footage of a concert in St. Louis at the Fox Theater in celebration of Berry's 60th birthday in 1986. Berry plays a lot of his classics - he was still an amazingly agile and robust performer at the time. Kieth Richards plays a big part in this movie. Apparently Richards was bothered by the fact that Berry always picked up lackluster backup bands wherever he played and he put together a good backup band for this concert, himself included of course. There are guest appearances by Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Linda Ronstadt, Etta James, and Julian Lennon. There are interviews with Bo Diddley, the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Little Richard (a delight), John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, and much talk from Keith Richards. The fact that Richards is still alive at this late date is a testament to the resilience of the human body.
Saw this film when it first came out and have loved it ever since. Chuck Berry obviously has a huge chip on his shoulder and takes it out on K.Richards before and during the big sixtieth birthday bash/show in St.Louis, and at times one has to feel a little badly for the guy? All he's trying to do is get Chuck more recognition for his lifes work, but this doesn't seem worthwhile to egomaniac Chuck. He go's so far as to change the arrangements of the tunes rehearsed for the show, right on stage that night, and makes Richards sweat the whole night through! Gaps in solos can be heard clearly on the soundtrack, and these weren't recording flubs but rather Chuck Berry made screwups, designed to discredit Mr.Richards and the show. Still the music thrill's and even Berrys antics couldn't derail the band Richards put together for this one. For anyone that loves real rocknroll the way it was meant to play, go out and pick yourself up a copy. You'll love the allstar cast rockin band that plays away the night in St.Louis celebrating Berry's 60'th at the end of the film and all the interviews and stuff along the way. Etta James's performance of rocknroll music a Berry classic, is as electrifying as anything ever performed on stage as is Linda Ronstadt's back in the Usa. Man I wish I could have been there?
Incredible to only seeing it now! VHS from the library. Can watch the
"confrontation" scene between Chuck and Keith over and over! It's like
minutes 33-37 with Chuck serious mind-fudging' with Keith over this
cool riff in "Carol" Just over and over and over. That guitar should
have gone directly over Chuck Berry's head with a bigger bang! Though
maybe there is a subtle different from the first try to the final
approval. Beats me, but teaching Keith? Never thought I'd see that!
What a fun movie and SO well done! Chuck Berry is just a genius, but a total lunatic and not what you'd call a people person! Just wildly good history. Glad it will be there as documentation.
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