Despite Its Needing A Rewrite For Many Pages, Is Still Effective At Calling Back Memories For Fans Of Rock And Roll.
Although this documentary that focuses upon a rather brief span of U.S. socio/cultural history never quite manages to devise a point of view, it contains enough scarce performance footage to interest enthusiasts of rock and roll and will provide satisfaction to a majority of them, essentially through inclusion of seldom-seen "B" movie clips. The work opens, as does also another film that it is highlighting within its narrative (THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE), with a track of the Bill Haley and his Comets version of "Rock Around the Clock", placed behind BLACKBOARD's opening credits, a number widely acknowledged for its establishment of a permanent foundation with which to build large-scale public acceptance of rock and roll, a pop music trend that expanded far beyond any effects that may have come from the somewhat muddled Richard Brooks directed motion picture. Alan Freed, Cleveland, Ohio-cum-New York City disc jockey is seen serving the progress of the new sound, and scenes are shown of his elaborately staged rock and roll events in New York that fixed the attention of what became an exponentially increasing and internationally based teenaged audience. There are numerous excerpts taken from a large number of low budget movies that employ rock and roll themes and musicians, including American HOT WAX, purportedly based upon Freed's life (but not firmly based upon actual occurrences), and ROCK! ROCK! ROCK! with 16 year old Tuesday Weld featured and supposedly singing (dubbed by Connie Francis), while there is a raft of filmed shorts documenting contributions from such as Haley, Big Joe Turner, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and many others. Principal commentator for this olio is Michael Ochs, identified as a "rock and roll historian", whose general approval unsurprisingly verges upon adulation toward the various performers on view, none more so than Elvis Presley, shown in his initial television appearance (28 January 1956), his first screen "musicals", and a wealth of other snippets, of both the often- and seldom-seen varieties. A viewer will also watch as well as listen to copious segments dealing with the lives (both on stage and off) of Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly, Lewis an antidote for any form of ennui, while sweeping claims for Holly's musical significance are largely based, as pointed out by Ochs, upon the bespectacled singer/guitarist's unprepossessing exterior that only increased his attractiveness to those adolescents who were keenly aware of their own lack of charisma. A specially valuable component of the film depicts the Payola scandal that occurred during the late 1950s, effectively ending the career of Freed because of Federal government accusations that he had accepted bribes in exchange for his efforts to build reputations of performers whose recordings he promoted (another disc jockey, Dick Clark, charged with the same violation, temporarily relinquished his drive for personal success in favour of the demands of prosecutors, thereby preserving his reputation). Issued as part of a Passport Video DVD package, this work benefits from bright visuals (1 x 33 x 1), and includes a small amount of letterboxing, while its Dolby Digital 2.0 sound is monophonic, moot in the event, since but few tracks of the period had the advantage of stereophonic reproduction. The Passport DVD box promises the inclusion of an additional full-length feature film: ROCK! ROCK! ROCK! starring Freed, but it is not there, although in its stead it is filled with approximately one hour of "Sidetracks", vignettes of greatly varying duration showcasing Presley; Gene Vincent; Lewis; Tommy Sands; Berry, et alia. Two sections would have to their advantage been eliminated in their entirety: a lengthy interview with Sands who is apparently intrigued with his own sexual history, and a plasticized Mamie Van Doren, for whom the passage of years has clearly produced little in the way of artistic acuity or cognitive common sense. However, the sounds of rock and roll, a phenomenon that ranged across the United States in quick fashion and around the world, as well, form the cardinal reason to watch this documentary piece and for a large share of its viewers this will be satisfying.
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