• Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll Blu-ray! (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: November 19th, 2019.
    Director: Taylor Hackford
    Cast: Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Bruce Springsteen
    Year: 1987
    Purchase From Amazon

    Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll Blu-ray! – Movie Review:
    By Mark Tolch

    When a young man was turned away from St. Louis' Fox Theatre for being the 'wrong colour', it can be assumed that the proprietor would not expect him to walk on to the stage of the same venue many decades later to celebrate his 60th birthday party. But in 1986, this is precisely what happened as Chuck Berry, a full-blown celebrity and rock 'n' roll icon, arrived there to play a concert to a sold-out crowd, the basis of which became Taylor Hackford's film Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll.

    Without having been there when 'Maybellene' first blasted out of phonographic speakers in 1955, it's difficult to imagine what that first sonic wave of rock 'n' roll must have felt like. The pioneering talents of Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, and Chuck himself bore an excitement that the predictable, pre-fab radio fodder of modern culture cannot hope to attain. Fortunately, director Taylor Hackford (Ray) chose not only to showcase Chuck's musical talent in this film, he also decided to take a look at the man and his background as well.

    "If you had tried to try and give rock 'n' roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry." This opening quote from John Lennon sums up the feeling of many rock 'n' roll fans, and is an appropriate introduction to the film. Lennon's opinion also surmises the influence that Chuck has had on White youth, such as the individual members of The Beatles. This is a theme that Hackford frequently revisits in his interviews with Chuck and other Black musicians hailing from a then-segregated society. Little Richard, Bo Diddley, and members of Chuck's first band discuss getting started in Caucasian-dominated radio, and the prejudice that they encountered throughout the early years. The performers manage to remain upbeat during the interviews though, and many great stories about the birth or rock 'n' roll are shared.

    Hackford also brings us to the modern-day Berry Park, Chuck's estate. Originally conceived as a conservation area and somewhat of a musical resort, the director is not shy in showing that the Park has fallen into a state of disrepair. This is only one example of Taylor's unwillingness to portray Chuck and his circumstances in an unrealistic light. Presented so close to the beginning of the film, it's almost a warning of the ugliness to come; Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll is not just a concert film; it's an unflinching portrait of a complex individual. Interviews with Chuck, his family, and his friends, show that although he can be a wonderful and caring person, he can turn ugly at the drop of a dime. Viewers will occasionally find themselves balking at Chuck's negativity and eccentric behaviour as he appears both poetically eloquent and raucous, but the film maintains integrity through its blatant honesty.

    That's not to say that music doesn't abound in the film. Intimate footage of Chuck in a club setting shows that even at sixty years of age, he can still pull out all of the stops and rip into the guitar like a madman- likewise, his staccato lyrics chug alongside the pounding rhythm, creating the locomotive momentum that rock music became famous for. The concert footage at the Fox Theatre achieves the same objective but in a much larger setting. The audience goes mad for Chuck as he duck-walks and jumps around the stage like a jackrabbit, cranking out hit after hit, joined by some of the top names in the music industry. Keith Richards is not only the second guitarist in the band, he's also the musical director of the show, and he plays like it's the most important gig of his life. Video footage of the rehearsals and interviews document Keith and Chuck having more than their fair share of difficulties relating to each other, and the tension adds to the energy of the music. In tribute to his father's respect of Chuck, Julian Lennon makes an appearance (with his rat-tail!) to help out with a fiery version of 'Johnny B. Goode'. Guest appearances by Linda Ronstandt, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, and Etta James round out a true, musical milestone.

    Interspersed throughout the film are interviews from old and new friends and acquaintances such as Keith Richards, Roy Orbison, Bruce Springsteen, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Each interview segment augments the purpose of the film...to document the importance and influence of the music and the man who is Chuck Berry.

    Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll Blu-ray! – Blu-ray Review:
    By Mark Tolch & Ian Jane

    Shout! Factory brings Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll to Blu-ray for the first time framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and looking very nice on a 50GB disc with the featured given just under 35Gbs of breathing room on that disc. There’s a couple of video inserts in here that look just like video inserts, no shame there, but overall this is a nice, filmic presentation. Detail is pretty solid in close up and medium shots. Some of the long distance shots can be on the soft side of things but this looks to have been how the movie is shot – shooting live footage under stage lighting can be a tricky thing indeed. Either way, this is a nice upgrade over the previous standard definition presentations that have been issued over the years. No issues with compression problems, edge enhancement or noise reduction to note. Colors look good, black levels are fine and the picture is nice and clean, showing some natural film grain but no noticeable print damage.

    Audio options are offered up in your choice of 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 or 5.1 tracks. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. The 5.1 mix opens things up nicely, filling in the rear channels during the live performances, while the 2.0 mix sounds truer to the movie’s roots. Either way, audio is clean, clear and nicely balanced, free of any hiss or distortion of note.

    Take it away, Mark…

    There are no new extras here but a lot of material from the 2006 DVD release has been ported over to the second disc in the set, starting with Taylor Hackford’s introduction, where talks about what a labour of love the film was for him. He also alludes briefly to the difficulty of working with Chuck, but comments on the overall positive aspects of making the film

    The Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll Concert Rehearsals section is approximately 55 minutes, and gives some insight into the rehearsals before the concert. The drummer of the band tells an interesting anecdote of how he was almost passed over for the position, and director Taylor Hackford discusses the formation of the band. The rest of the featurette is made up of rehearsal footage and a multi-angle jam which features a camera on each band member.

    Next up is The Reluctant Movie Star. This is a 65-minute piece featuring interviews with a producer and the production manager, as well as a few others involved in the film. The focus, according to the director, is to document the numerous bizarre stories that came from making the film, predominantly centered on Chuck's idiosyncrasies. Unfortunately, although a few interesting facts come out, (Bob Rafeaelson, who directed the Monkees' movie Head was almost director), most of the material seems to drag on and will probably not warrant more than one viewing.

    From there, dig into Witness To History #1. Approximately one hour long, this is the full interview of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Bo Diddley together, of which excerpts were used in the film itself. In the long-playing version found here, the three are able to expand on their stories of race politics in the early days of rock, and to include stories of the traveling music shows hosted by the legendary DJ Alan Freed. Little Richard contributes to the historical material by talking about his frustration in seeing Pat Boone cover his big hit 'Tutti-Frutti', the epitome of racism in rock 'n' roll. The three participants play off of each other well, and the featurette is an enjoyable and informative piece.

    Witnesses To History #2 is a series of interviews that starts off with a Taylor Hackford introduction documenting the importance of the participants, who really need no introduction. Roy Orbison, Sam Phillips, Willie Dixon, and the Everly Brothers are only a few of the interviewees - each interview segment runs approximately one-half hour, and is full of information and stories about the history of rock 'n' roll and Chuck's influence on the genre. Anyone who is fascinated by documentaries on rock music will want to find a comfortable seat for these clips. Perhaps, the most entertaining is Jerry Lee Lewis, who confirms his rebel status by getting progressively more drunk, arrogant and belligerent as the interview goes on.

    Chuckisms is an interesting collection of film footage of Chuck. According to the director, the point of this supplement was to document Chuck's poetic and unique way of speaking. Although the first clip manages to illustrate Hackford's point, it's difficult to see where the remaining clips of Chuck in his work shed and onstage fit into this vision. The saving grace is an outtake from the Burnt Scrapbook extra, featuring Chuck reciting poetry accompanied by Robbie Robertson on guitar.

    The Burnt Scrapbook features The Band guitarist Robbie Robertson flipping through Chuck's slightly singed scrapbook that he's kept since starting out. The respect that the men have for each other is evident, and in the half-hour allotted here, Robertson elicits some very personal and intimate details from Chuck, accompanied by the scrapbook's unique photographs and memorabilia.

    Finishing up the extras are a theatrical trailer for the feature, Taylor Hackford's Final Words, menus and chapter selection options.

    Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll Blu-ray! – The Final Word:

    By focusing on the history and personal life of Chuck Berry, Taylor Hackford presents a piece of filmmaking and musical history that avoids the trappings of becoming a cliché rock 'n' roll revival concert film. This set belongs in any rock 'n' roll fans collection and Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release gives the film a very nice high definition upgrade in terms of presentation quality while porting over pretty much all of the extra features from the DVD release.

    Click on the images below for full sized Chuck Berry: Hail Hail Rock 'N' Roll Blu-ray screen caps & video clips!