CHUCK BERRY: HAIL! HAIL! ROCK ’N’ ROLL - DVD of the Week
CHUCK BERRY: HAIL! HAIL! ROCK ’N’ ROLL
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: The late 1950s rock ’n’ roll icon Chuck Berry (he died three years ago at the age of 90) was the subject of this documentary/concert film some 32 years ago and it remains a toe-tapping pleasure. Now it’s been released in a new Blu-ray special edition with copious bonus features by The Shout! Factory. My review of the film was published in the Deseret News on April 10, 1988.
“Hail! Hail! Rock ’n Roll” opens with a clip of John Lennon introducing Chuck Berry at a concert, saying, “If you wanted another name for rock ’n’ roll, it’d be Chuck Berry!”
That sets the tone for this homage to the man whose influence has shaped popular music for the past 30 years.
The film is an uneasy mix of probing documentary and concert film, with emphasis on the latter during rehearsals and the performance of a special show in St. Louis celebrating Berry’s 60th birthday (where guest performers include Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Julian Lennon, Linda Ronstadt and others).
Chuck Berry, left, Eric Clapton, 'Hail! Hail! Rock ’n Roll' (1988)
The concert aspect works marvelously and makes the picture a must-see for music fans, but the documentary side is extremely tenuous. Berry has a reputation as a very private individual, and this shows in interview segments where he simply doesn’t want certain things discussed. Even his family says very little about him in clips that are all too brief.
Other interviews are little more than tributes by Richards, Bruce Springsteen, Little Richard, Bo Diddely, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers and Eric Clapton; only Richards and Springsteen shed any light on Berry’s personality. The most interesting interviews are those with Berry himself — though, again, he doesn’t reveal much.
The documentary side is so weak in fact, and the film is so long (more than two hours), director Taylor Hackford might as well have given up on trying to investigate Berry’s life and settled instead for simply doing a concert movie.
Despite that handicap, however, the film is still a knockout, if only for the performances of such great Berry tunes as “Rock and Roll Music,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “School Days,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Nadine,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” “Back In the U.S.A.” and many more.
When Berry’s on stage, or when he’s sitting alone singing an out-of-character ballad, the film ignites and audience members will be tapping toes and singing along whether or not they want to. It’s not hard to understand the reverence Berry’s fellow musicians feel for him.
Rated PG for a couple of profanities, “Hail! Hail!” will have you humming and whistling as you leave the theater, and may even send you to your local record shop to buy a Chuck Berry album or two.