Film Title: Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll
Release Date: 1987
Runtime: 120 minutes
Region Coding: Region A
Distributor: Shout Select (Shout! Factory)
Audio Formats: DTS- HD MA 5.1 & 2.0 Stereo
Aspect Ratio(s): 1.85:1
Version Reviewed: Blu-ray Disc
Blu-ray Release Date: 11/19/19
Director: Taylor Hackford
Cast: Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Johnnie Johnson, Steve Jordan, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Bruce Springsteen, Linda Ronstadt, Etta James, Julian Lennon, John Lennon, Don Everly, Phil Everly
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Full Blu-ray Tech Specs at bottom
“Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll” was a 1987 documentary/concert film [made in 1986] in celebration of the famous rock musician Chuck Berry‘s 60th birthday concerts and his career. The film was directed by Taylor Hackford, now best known for directing the musician biopic “Ray” (2004). Hackford was also a great choice to direct this 1987 film as he also directed his share of music videos for acts like Phil Collins and Lionel Richie in the mid-1980s.
This film features archival interviews with John Lennon here at the very opening and over halfway through the film. Lennon obviously admired Chuck Berry heavily and you get to hear this through those interviews. Speaking of Lennon, you even get to see his son Julian Lennon perform in the concert (singing “Johnny B. Goode”). The man who organized things and even served as the musical producer (on the film credits) was Keith Richards, guitarist for the band The Rolling Stones.
The film starts off with the man himself, Chuck Berry, telling you how he got to where he was (in 1986) as a rock musician. Along the way, you’ll get to see him at first performing his solo gigs and even traveling alone by airplane – like a normal citizen. Next, you’ll get some interviews with folks like Berry’s longtime piano player and friend Johnnie Johnson. Other musicians interviewed here include Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, Bruce Springsteen, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Things then switch over to a rehearsal session with Chuck Berry being joined by Keith Richards (on guitar), Johnnie Johnson (on piano), and others to make up their band like Steve Jordan (on drums). Eric Clapton will join them playing guitar later as well. A rockin’ good time is to be had for all here and that’s before the concerts even start. The concerts here include performances by Eric Clapton (singing “Wee Wee Hours”), Robert Cray (singing “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”), Linda Ronstadt (singing “Back in the USA”), Etta James (singing “Rock and Roll Music”), and Julian Lennon (singing “Johnny B. Goode”).
Movie Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
“Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll” is presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, just as it was shown during its 1987 theatrical run. The movie was shot primarily on 35mm film using Panaflex Cameras and spherical lenses. However, some select scenes were shot on Super 16mm film – according to IMDb.
Early on in some of the interviews, it is pretty obvious that those were the scenes shot on Super 16mm. Eventually, as the film progresses along to rehearsals you will notice that it was shot in 35mm film and offers up a cleaner and crisper appearance. The detail here is rather consistent all throughout the film, especially near the later bits which had better lighting. There really is a great amount of detail to be found in almost every shot, especially the closeups during the concert.
The colors a bright and vibrant here with an accurate representation of flesh tones. The black level is pretty solid, with the film grain visible all throughout. This presentation does the 1987 film justice. That said. It earns itself a pretty darn nice 4.25 rating for video quality. Growing up as a kid, first seeing this film on TV, I never expected to see it ever looking this good on home video. I didn’t get to see this during the theatrical run but this feels pretty much as close as I could get to that, in my mind (and ultimately opinion).
Video Quality Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)
Audio here is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo. It makes sense that this would receive a Stereo mix, as it was originally presented in Dolby Stereo during its original theatrical run.
I’ll start by saying I first gave this a chance in the 2.0 Stereo mix and found it to be rather impressive. There’s a decent amount of bass, the guitars, pianos, keys, and drums all sound really nice. Most importantly, the vocals here (in 2.0) are delivered in a very clear manner. The same said about vocals can be sound about the spoken dialogue here as well in the stereo lossless sound mix.
The 5.1 mix here is pretty impressive itself. There’s an excellent amount of rear channel usage, especially during the latter half of the film during the main concert. There’s a nice fitting bit of bass, primarily represented via the subwoofer. The dialogue and lyrics during musical numbers are presented pretty distinctly from the center channel speaker – although I did have to do some volume adjustment on my center channel. This uses the front left and right channels to deliver the music while the real channels get used for things like the crowds cheering or echoes in outdoor interviews, etc.
I have to admit to liking the lossless 2.0 Stereo mix more in a purist sense. Still, both of the sound mixes here of the film provide a nice representation of the film in terms of audio – earning it a 4.25 rating for overall audio quality.
Audio Quality Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)
Bonus materials on this release, are presented in SD (standard definition) video with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound. They all can be found on the second Blu-ray Disc and include the following:
- 2006 DVD Introduction by Director Taylor Hackford (3:58 – SD)
- “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll Concert Rehearsals” (53:49 – SD) features an intro by the director Taylor Hackford. Before each rehearsal, you’ll get some other interviews with folks like Steve Jordan who played drums and Mike Frondelli (recording engineer). These interviews are from the 2006 DVD, where these rehearsals first debuted. During the rehearsals, there are sometimes different camera angles shown. Here in the jam sessions (rehearsals) you have Eric Clapton (guitar) and Keith Richards (guitar) as well as the rest of the band featured in the film. Cameras seem to have some difficulties along the way on that bit but fear not: they fix it. These rehearsals are amazing and the talent of the rock and roll genre was truly showcased and recorded here forever, for the ages. There are even some archival interviews here from that rehearsal session with Eric Clapton (guitarist) and Steve Jordan (drummer). Next, you get one rehearsal featuring Etta James, followed by an interview with her. Finally, you get some outtake footage of Chuck Berry jamming along alone on guitar, as partially seen in the film. He ends up covering older songs and I’ll let it be a surprise to what they are. Let’s just say, well, that it’s all just one beautiful medley.
- “The Reluctant Movie Star – The Making of Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll“ (1:06:27 – SD) discusses how hard it was to get Chuck Berry to cooperate and work with him once they did. This starts out again with an introduction by the film’s director Taylor Hackford.
- “Witnesses to History #1 – Little Richard, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry” (58:17 – SD) have the three all sitting together talking, just as seen in the documentary (film) itself. You’ll first get an intro though from the film’s director.
- “Witnesses to History #2” consists of individual interviews with the following:
- Taylor Hackford (2:41 – SD) does an intro for this section.
- Jerry Lee Lewis (31:36 – SD)
- Bo Diddley (32:04 – SD)
- The Everly Brothers (33:11- SD)
- Willie Dixon (21:32 – SD)
- Roy Orbison (31:16 – SD)
- Sam Phillips (32:56 – SD) from Sun Records. This is very entertaining and most importantly is very informative and is a must-watch for fans of musical history.
- Ahmet Ertegun (31:24 – SD) from Atlantic Records. This is very informative and is a must-watch for any music fan and/or historian.
- “Chuckisms” (17:38 – SD) refers to phrases that Chuck Berry would say during the making of the film. There’s even some poetry that he recites here in some outtakes. This is truly beautiful when he recites the poetry to the guitar being played by the film’s producer Robbie Robertson.
- “The Burnt Scrapbook – with Robbie Robertson and Chuck Berry” (30:43 – SD) features an intro by the film’s director Taylor Hackford discussing Robbie Robertson who did not get to appear in the film. He helped with making the film as a producer and after the concert, he went to visit Chuck Berry. While visiting he discovered an old scrapbook of Chuck Berry’s where they discuss his past.
- Theatrical Trailer (2:51 – SD)
- “Taylor Hackford’s Final Words” (2:08 – SD)
Overall, the bonus materials you get here are extremely lengthy, informative, and also very entertaining. This all, contained on its own separate Blu-ray Disc, has a runtime over 7 hours in length. That should leave the fans pretty busy after they finish watching the 2-hour film.
Bonus Materials Rating: 5 (out of 5)
“Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll” was and still is one of my favorites in terms of music documentary or concert film. It’s how along with the “Back to the Future” film, as I kid, I first discovered Chuck Berry’s music which I remain a fan of. This showcases not only his talent but also the talent of his friends and fans that perform his songs here like Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, Etta James, Robert Cray, and Julian Lennon.
The Blu-ray debut of this documentary/concert film in a Collector’s Edition from Shout! Factory is pretty impressive in both terms of the video and audio quality. Visually, this combination of 35mm and Super 16mm film sources comes across with a lot more detail than you ever saw on the previous DVD release. The sound mix here is finally lossless and presented in your choice of 5.1 surround sound and 2.0 stereo.
Finally, there are well over 7 hours of bonus materials here that consist of outtakes from the concert rehearsal and lots of interviews. This is a must-see for any fan of the music genre that is rock ‘n’ roll, as it features some interviews and such with those who truly did witness history.
In terms of Blu-ray release, this gets:
4.25 (out of 5) for video quality
4.25 (out of 5) for audio quality
5 (out of 5) for bonus materials