Rock & Roll (1995)

TV Mini-Series  |  Documentary, Music
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A history of rock and roll music.

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This 10-part documentary mini-series traces the history and evolution of rock and roll music, from its rhythm and blues, country, gospel and jazz roots in the early 1950s, through the advent of folk rock, soul, psychadelia, heavy metal, glam, funk, punk, and reggae, to the emergence of rap in the early 1990s. Written by yortsnave

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Documentary | Music






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24 September 1995 (USA)  »

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Self-Important But Absorbing & Focused
30 September 2005 | by (Chicago, IL) – See all my reviews

Originally broadcast on PBS, this deadly serious, Ken Burns-ish, take on the evolution of rock and roll manages to deliver some incredibly absorbing archival footage and interviews presented in a very concise, logical manner. Far superior than the other rock n' roll documentary that aired around the same time, this series places such icons as the Beatles, Chuck Berry & Elvis Presley more firmly within the fabric of the other music of the time. The history is mostly told through racially-themed observations, often at the expense of some white artists, such as the always-overlooked Bill Haley, who doesn't garner a single mention, let alone any credit. While one would be careless to avoid the racial importance that rock and roll deserves, the accusation that the Beatles were deliberately poised as "safe" replacements for black music (specifically Motown) is simply lacking merit.

Most any rock fan will find issue not so much with what's included, but what's omitted. Heavy metal is given as much slight mention as Haley.

Other problems arise as the series approaches the modern day, devoting much too much time by lavishing over-significance on such schlock as the Beastie Boys, as well as the overstated influence of reggae (as briefly seen in such bands the Police, the Talking Heads and The Clash). Racism (as well as gay-bashing) is credited yet again, this time for the ultimate rejection of disco. Alternative/grunge music - being all the craze at the time - is hoisted into the spotlight by the final episode, presented as some kind of ultimate culmination of the rebel ethic began by all those who proceeded them. Just my opinion, but this type of "history" gets so complicated and uncertain at this point that the film would've been much better served halting it's anthropology around the pre-disco/punk period of 1975 or '76. Rock has been less easier to define since then.

Still, the series is at its best covering the post-Buddy Holly/pre-Monterey Pop era, when rock not only demonstrated some of its greatest artistry, but - it could be argued - its highest diversity. Here, ample time & affect is given to the pop, folk, soul, surf & psychedelic movements. Ultimately, for all its faults, "Rock and Roll" is a terrific primer for the uninitiated, and a wonderful conversation piece for die-hards.

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