Bonus features on “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll” drive home a single point: Taylor Hackford made a brilliant film from what he had to work with. The celebration of Chuck Berry’s 60th birthday with a concert in his hometown of St. Louis remains one of the premiere concert films and there’s little in the material from the cutting room floor that would have given added to the examination of Berry’s life.
Instead, we learn how ill-prepared the Gotham production team was when they entered St. Louis to shoot Berry’s story and an all-star concert over the course of a week, unaware of how Berry operates as a human being, a businessman and a performer. (They’re even stunned they were served ribs for one meal and catfish for another). Berry, who is not interviewed in the bonus material, is slammed as inconsiderate at the least and a blackmailer at worst. Hackford is his lone defender.
It’s interesting to see Berry, Little Richard and Bo Diddley sit around a piano and jaw — and indeed when the film was released it felt like that portion was short-changed — but it sounds more like a gripe-‘n’-praise session rather than anything that would shed light on the early days of rock ‘n’ roll. A disc of interviews with other early legends has its moments, but those one-on-one’s are more entertaining than illuminating, especially Jerry Lee Lewis’ barely coherent ramblings. Bonus material does reveal, however, that Berry’s voice was shot on the night of the shows and that his top-drawer vocals were the result of some post-production recording.
Hackford is everywhere on the bonus material, including one spot where he should not be. The main film now begins with newly shot material of Hackford talking about how great it was to be around for the Berry show. It would be fine as an intro for the bonus material, but, please, let the film speak for itself.