Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll

It’s almost impossible to imagine an uninteresting film about Chuck Berry, but Taylor Hackford’s overextended and poorly edited documentary (1987) makes a stab at being one. There are, to be sure, some very enjoyable sequencesin particular some excerpts from a three-way conversation between Berry, Bo Diddley, and the volatile Little Richardbut a good deal of this film is devoted to a 60th birthday celebration concert for Berry that pairs him with Linda Ronstadt, Julian Lennon, Etta James, and others and tends to reduce him to a show-biz icon, the George Jessel of rock. What one misses most of all are some glimpses of the earlier Chuck Berry, as seen in the black-and-white rock movies of the 50s, when the intensity of his music and his jackrabbit moves had more satanic majesty. Berry is still a dynamite performer when he wants to be, but he’s done the same tunes so many times that he knows he can get away with relatively little, and too much of this film shows him at half-throttle. The film also skimps on certain portions of his careermost noticeably his brushes with the lawthat are treated in fuller detail in his autobiography. You won’t want to miss this if you’re a Berry fan, but don’t count on getting the full measure of the man and his music. (JR)

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