More Important Than Elvis?

Authorized by the Berry family with their full participation, Chuck Berry: The Original King of Rock ‘N’ Roll is a warm and largely engaging look back at one of Rock’s most influential figures. The feature-length documentary by Jon Brewer interviews an eclectic list of famous musicians and family members about the icon, lightly touching upon major events in Chuck Berry’s life and career. It is bolstered by archival footage and personal insight from the Berry family’s own archives.

There’s no dispute that Chuck Berry is one of the true giants in Rock history. The dynamic stage performer’s signature guitar licks and gigantic hits helped shape the blueprint of early rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s alongside Elvis Presley, influencing everyone that came afterwards. Many of Rock’s biggest names like the Beatles and Rolling Stones grew up on Chuck Berry’s music, citing him as a major factor in their work. Kids today may not know his name, but they’ve surely heard classics like Johnny B. Goode and Sweet Little Sixteen.

Chuck Berry: The Original King of Rock ‘N’ Roll does a wonderful job capturing the performer’s appeal and enduring legacy.

The documentary isn’t Brewer’s first ride around the block, he’s been churning out reputable documentaries on popular music acts for years. This one generally falls along similar lines as Brewer’s earlier films, including the excellent B.B. King: The Life of Riley. Brewer has a good feel interviewing musicians and music industry types, which does most of the heavy lifting once again in Chuck Berry: The Original King of Rock ‘N’ Roll.

Everyone from Alice Cooper to George Thorogood to Joe Perry pop up in new interviews about Berry’s influence and personal anecdotes. Gene Simmons of KISS fame recalls once having to share a small venue with Chuck Berry. Older archival clips of legends like Paul McCartney and Keith Richards discussing their childhood idol are dredged up.

The most thoughtful personal comments come from Ingrid Berry, his wife of many years. Brewer gets contributions from several different Berry relatives, recalling their memories of the rocker away from the stage. They candidly admit that Chuck’s stage persona was something of a creation for the fans. He was always Charles Berry back home around family.

Brewer crafts a solid career overview that lightly treads on Berry’s personal problems, including his various issues with the law that got the rock icon into trouble. Look elsewhere for hard-hitting reporting on Berry’s time in jail as a young man, or problems stemming from a restaurant he owned secretly recording women in the bathroom. The documentary is far more assured and confident dealing with topics such as payola and shady record business practices.

The only real misstep in Chuck Berry: The Original King of Rock ‘N’ Roll is Brewer attempting to spice up the stodgy blend of photographs, interview clips and archival highlights with dramatized vignettes plucking incidents from Berry’s life. Set to Chuck Berry’s biggest hits, these short skits play out as bizarre musical interludes with sub-par acting and hokey execution.

For an authorized documentary, Chuck Berry: The Original King of Rock ‘N’ Roll does a wonderful job capturing the performer’s appeal and enduring legacy. Hardcore fans may want more depth and revealing insight but there’s enough new here for everyone interested in the music giant.

Video

Chuck Berry: The Original King of Rock ‘N’ Roll runs almost 98 minutes on a BD-50. The routine AVC encode has no issues with the interlaced 1080i presentation or its content. Presented at 1.78:1, the documentary nicely blends older clips with lesser definition, from television appearances to concert shows, with the new interview footage’s impressive video quality. This is generally a nice-looking presentation made for modern audiences with strong clarity and a glossy sheen.

What sticks out most in the documentary are Brewer’s sketches vividly portraying vignettes plucked from Berry’s life. They are filmed in a stark black-and-white aesthetic with often one color such as red highlighted, ripped off from Sin City. Brewer certainly tried branching out of the documentary’s straightforward style with lackluster results.

Audio

The musical documentary has ordinary, fairly respectable 2.0 PCM audio. You might call it underwhelming considering Berry’s extensive catalog of giant hits like Roll Over Beethoven. However, the sound is certainly serviceable without notable problems. The stereo mix isn’t flashy but delivers crystal-clear dialogue for the new interview segments. Archival clips are a tad thin and reedy, likely pulled from dated monaural recordings with no high-frequency extension.

A few vintage performance clips from Berry’s long career are the documentary’s chief musical highlights with decent sound quality. Brewer doesn’t shy away from using Chuck Berry’s most well-known songs to set up his little dramatical interludes.

No subtitles are available.

Extras

More than 100 minutes of new interviews are included as bonus features. Snippets from the interviews appeared in the documentary but these are uncut. The disc is coded for all regions. With this documentary receiving the Berry family’s official blessing, unseen archival concert footage would have been a welcome addition. MVD distributes this release.

Extended Interviews:

Alice Cooper (17:57 in HD)

Charles Berry Jr. (06:33 in HD)

Gene Simmons (05:09 in HD)

George Thorogood (04:30 in HD)

Ingrid Berry (10:04 in HD)

Jimmy Marsala (04:29 in HD)

Joe Bonamassa (07:29 in HD)

Joe Perry (08:14 in HD)

Nils Lofgren (13:26 in HD)

Steve Van Zandt (06:05 in HD)

Johnny Rivers (04:14 in HD)

Nile Rodgers (????)*

*My OPPO player repeatedly locked up when attempting to play the interview with Nile Rodgers. Readers will have to report if it does exist or this is an authoring error by MVD.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Chuck Berry: The Original King of Rock N Roll
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Veteran documentary filmmaker Brewer puts together an expansive Chuck Berry retrospective with a cadre of famous musicians and Berry’s own family.

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