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St. Louis, Missouri. For Chuck Berry's 60th birthday, Keith Richards assembles a pickup band of Robert Cray, Joey Spampinato, Eric Clapton, himself, and longtime pianist Johnnie Johnson. Joined on stage by Etta James, Linda Ronstadt and Julian Lennon, Berry performs his classic rock songs. His abilities as a composer, lyricist, singer, musician and entertainer are on display and, in behind-the-scenes interviews, are discussed by Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, Bruce Springsteen and others. There's even a rarity for Berry, a rehearsal. Archival footage from the early 1950s and a duet with John Lennon round out this portrait of a master.Written by
I just happened to catch this for the third or fourth time, and first time with my wife, on Universal HD today. Taylor Hackford does a phenomenal job in this movie. Chuck Berry, one of the most complicated and conflicted figures in the history of rock and pop music is rich territory and Hackford managed to catch Berry in all of his many guises - charming, professional, intelligent, thoughtful, bitter, petulant, unprofessional, difficult, and combative. What really marks this movie as a superior documentary is Hackford refusal to judge Berry to focus on just documenting the man and his behavior in a variety of situations and from a variety of sources. There really is no ax-grinding going on in this movie and there is no whitewashing - everything is what it is whether it's Berry in a touching scene with his mother and father or it's Berry in a petulant rehearsal stare-down with Keith Richards when Berry isn't getting his way.
Hackford's other great achievement in this movie is the excellent recording of Berry's 60th Anniversary Concert, the predominate reason for the whole project and the involvement of other pop/rock music notables, at St. Louis' Fox Theatre. Backed by Keith Richards, Johnnie Johnson (Berry's pianist and forgotten early influence), Steve Jordan, Bobby Keys, Robert Cray, and Joey Spaminato, Berry performs what is probably his best show in 30 years. Hackford catches the performer's excitement, the crowd's excitement, and Berry's energy and showmanship in a way those of us too young to have seen or heard Berry can begin to understand why he serves a such a seminal influence in pop and rock music.
The movie is full of entertaining nuggets. Hackford's interviews with Keith Richards are fascinating. Richards' comments are just insightful about Berry, the influence of Berry's music, and the influence of Johnson of Berry's songs; they're also fascinating in just watching and listening to Richards himself - part mystic, part philosopher, part drunk. Also particularly interesting is a three-way conversation between Berry, Little Richard, and Bo Diddly who go into great detail about their early careers, music, business, and how racism negatively affected their careers and their recognition as the earliest purveyors of rock and roll.
I think this movie is interesting regardless of whether your actually interested in Berry beforehand or not. It is as fine a documentary that any director could produce and you should watch this movie whenever the chance presents itself.
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