Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll
Lord knows rock 'n' roll has produced more than its share of characters, but there's perhaps none more mercurial, ornery, controlling, stubborn, charismatic and absolutely charming than Chuck Berry. Director Taylor Hackford set about capturing the Berry mystique in this 1987 film, commemorating the proto-rocker's 60th birthday. Berry lives up to all of the above adjectives and them some in this two-hour odyssey of putting together a concert for the movie. At its core is the struggle between music director Keith Richards and Berry. Talk about a love/hate relationship. These two powerful personalities clash, yell, cajole, hug and make memorable music, all captured by Hackford's ever-watchful cameras.
While often engrossing, the star-studded concert footage — with appearances by Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, Julian Lennon and others — is in some ways the least vital element in Hail! Hail!. Berry's stage act had been on autopilot for decades by then, and he seems incapable of doing much more than scratching the surface despite the momentous occasion. More riveting are segments in the rehearsal room at Berry's St. Louis-area compound, or when he gives a tour of his old haunts, or talks directly, and eloquently, into the camera.
Hail! Hail! comes in two-DVD and four-DVD packages, the latter of which contains a staggering amount of extras, most of which are engrossing interviews with some of the titans of '50s rock 'n' roll: Jerry Lee Lewis (who's surprisingly deferential to the Berry legacy), Bo Diddley, Little Richard (with his flamboyance in full flower), the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison and others. A segment where Robbie Robertson sits with Berry and flips through a scrapbook is especially poignant. A making-of featurette that discusses the star's idiosyncratic behavior is a hoot. Taken as a whole, the film plus extras becomes an estimable music and oral history of early rock 'n' roll. 4.5 stars ES
Live at Shepherd's Bush Empire 2003
Secret Films/Music Video Distributors
Still-thriving British first-wave punk outfit Buzzcocks is usually referred to as "the godfathers of pop-punk." But original members Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle were art-school boys as well as pop fans, and this looooong, 32-track concert film displays as much angularity and noise as it does clever catchiness.
Covering both the band's legendary singles-heavy pre-breakup salad days ('76-'81) and consistent post-reunion period ('91-present), Live is a straight-up document that serves as both an in-concert experience and career retrospective. While the camera angles are limited and predictable, the sound is better than average, and the band's enjoyment and easy camaraderie are palpable. This one's not just for longtime diehard fans — those new to Buzzcocks or curious about a band they've heard of, but never heard, will enjoy it as well. Extras include a somewhat banal interview with Shelley and Diggle, text bio, and tour/video-shoot footage. (www.secretrecordslimited.com) 3.5 stars SH
Insomniac DVD Vol. 1: Street Credentials
Progressive hip-hop magazine Insomniac's entrée into the video-zine realm is very nearly a slam-dunk — the only thing missing from this informative collage of interviews is more performance footage. Insomniac principal Iz-Real, schizophrenic hip-hop clown prince Kool Keith, unclassifiable street poet/songwriter Saul Williams, backpack favorite Aesop Rock, unmarketable underground firestarter Immortal Technique, freestyle master Poison Pen and others candidly and intelligently discuss everything from rap's decline into clichéd commodity to the pros and cons of being independent artists.
Street Credentials is a hopeful look beyond the tired materialism and anti-heroics of mainstream hip-hop icons, an extended conversation with passionate artists whose love for rap's original pioneer spirit will likely keep them from ever becoming household names, and it rules.
The extras — an extended freestyle by Poison Pen, an interesting public appearance/speech by Iz-Real, and several of what amount to the DVD-magazine equivalent of display ads — are a bit skimpy, as is the main feature's performance-to-discussion ratio, but this isn't to be missed by any fan of underground/independent/imaginative hip-hop. (www.insomniaconline.com) 4.5 stars SH
The Real Thing: In Performance 1964-1981
Ideally, this single DVD would collect a definitive set of live concert performances from various points in Marvin Gaye's career. Unfortunately, there's only a handful here, the best of which is a mesmerizing 1972 performance of "What's Going On," where Gaye artfully remolds the melody, followed by "What's Happening Brother."
The rest of The Real Thing is made up of mostly TV appearances, from grainy black-and-white turns on American Bandstand to hokey guest shots on Dinah & Friends. There's a lot of lip-synching going on throughout. There's also a lot of kitsch. Gaye's sit-downs with Dinah Shore — where he's joined by the likes of Sally Struthers, Kate Jackson and Don Meredith — are superficial cringe-fests. His 1965 performance of "You're a Wonderful One" on the New Lloyd Thaxton Show finds the reluctant pop star singing on a stool while fresh-scrubbed white teens clap and smile at his feet. Most touching is a promotional clip of Marvin and Tammi Terrell singing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough;" Terrell is adorable and the duet partners display a palpable chemistry. In the end, The Real Thing is more enjoyable as a time-capsule curio than a musical document.