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Berry, Chuck - The Original King Of Rock ’N’ Roll

MVD Entertainment Group // Unrated // November 21, 2021
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ryan Keefer | posted March 5, 2021 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Chuck Berry's impact on music may not have been felt immediately when he released his songs in the 1950s, but it became a deeper appreciation through the years, despite his personal demons and volatility, some of which can be found in Taylor Hackford's film Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll, in which a 60-something Berry and a 40-something Keith Richards almost come to blows over how Berry's "Carol" should be played at a star-studded concert. As "The Original King of Rock and Roll," a new documentary on Berry by Jon Brewer shows, Chuck was totally right on that, and covers some other facets on Berry's life in this new (and "Fully-Authorized") documentary on Berry.

This film does borrow from film used in Hail! Hail!, along with interview footage from some of the subjects in it, but also includes new interviews from musicians like E Street band members Stevie Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren, along with Alice Cooper and Aerosmith axeman Joe Perry. Unlike the Hackford work, this includes interviews with Berry family members, and shows extended film of some of Berry's past purchases in their current, dilapidated condition. This film also does, we'll call them "interpretations" of some of Berry's songs, to help provide a personal connection to and motivation for why Chuck wrote what he wrote.

Original King does cover many of the usual topics when it comes to Berry, as to why he is able to play guitar as well as he does, or why he demanded to get paid before a show, or his issues with taxes and law enforcement. Based on an outsider's view, because Berry was a little enigmatic or abrasive to dealing with people, he didn't let much of his family or business connections into it that deeply (though his lawyer and business manager are also interviewed for the film). So the viewer is left with an incomplete portrait on Berry's complexity, despite a good amount of circumstantial evidence laid before the court.

The film does provide the viewer a good idea of why Berry acted the way he did though, with comparisons to Elvis Presley and other peers of the rock genre shown and how Berry perhaps was neglected, left behind, what have you. Between the oversight, the personal and financial issues Berry ran into, the film (and presumably estate) wanted to have its cake, but knew that eating it was a problem with the caloric count.

Overall, The King of Rock and Roll provides an interesting look into Chuck Berry, but if the Berry estate was going to authorize something like this, I think a look into Berry warts and all is probably in order at some point when a notable anniversary is coming up. This film is interesting in theory but the execution does not fully commit. Good start, need a better finish for the book on Chuck Berry to be great.

The Blu-rays:
The Video:

Given the nature of borrowing old stills, video and other film footage, Original King looks fine, with the newly shot video looking good and vivid where appropriate. Flesh tones are natural and not oversaturated and the image looks fine. The older material looks about as you would expect it to, and overall the disc looks good.

The Sound:

The two-channel LPCM is a bit of a bummer, but the soundtrack does not give the disc much of a chance to stretch its legs out, given that we're talking about a rock icon. Dialogue sounds fine and well-balanced on the new stuff and the old stuff sounds good too. When songs from the '87 film do come through they are clear and even a little broad soundstage wise, and things are fine.

The Extras:

Many of the interview subjects for the feature and a couple of others return for additional interview segments totaling about as long as the feature. They share thoughts and anecdotes on Berry, along with remembrances and thoughts on what his legacy should be.

Final Thoughts:

At this point, Chuck Berry has a couple of interesting films about his life and/or career are shown. Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll covers more of the career, and Original King of Rock and Roll covers both ends of it, but not completely. Technically the disc is decent and the supplements is easy but past that, eh. But there are nice moments in both and whenever (hopefully) a truly in-depth look at one of the people on the Mount Rushmore of rock, count on it being amazing. As it stands this is good but also a complement to what is out there.

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