Chuck Berry (Brewer, 2018): UK

Reviewed by Larry Gleeson. Viewed as part of the Nashville Film Festival.

Chuck Berry, directed by Ron Brewer, made its world premiere at the 50th Anniversary of the Nashville Film Festival, Friday, October 4, 2019, Regal Hollywood ScreenX & RPX Cinema – Nashville. Berry, an extraordinary entertainer, ushered in the era of rock-n-roll, with a showmanship that has often been imitated and rarely duplicated.

Brewer does his homework as he sheds light on the man and career that shaped and molded the British invasion during the 1960’s in a predominantly chronological treatment. Complete with archival footage of Berry and numerous rock-n-roll legends including Steven Van Zandt, Keith Richards, Joe Perry, Joe Bonamassa, George Thoroughgood, Gene Simmons, Alice Cooper and additional archival footage of Jerry Lee Lewis draw a picture of a era- defining career.

Chuck Berry opens in a highly stylized, animated treatment as the audience is introduced to the the film’s subject. Berry a St. Louis, Missouri, native had an energy that seemed to lack the necessary resources to meet his personal needs. Consequently, periods of incarceration defined Berry’s young adult life.

As often is the case, legends of Berry’s stature myths become truth. Not so with Chuck Berry, as those who inhabited Berry’s orbit tell the story beginning with Berry’s wife, Themetta, and continued with his son, Charles Berry, Jr., and daughter, Ingrid Berry. Brewer aids the telling of the story with a voice-over-narrator, still photos – both in color and black and white, animation, interviews and a treasure trove of cultural artifacts including a 1964 St. Louis Federation of Musicians union card.

A long-time idol of the suave Nat King Cole, young Berry tried to imitate Cole’s style. Realizing, Cole’s unique talent, Berry began experimenting with a more percussive style in his guitar playing. According to Nile Rodgers this is where the music of Chuck Berry made the crossover from blues to rock-n-roll. Chicago-based Chess records got wind of Berry’s talent and star potential and began promoting Berry’s music. “Maybelline” “authored” by the payola king, Allen Fried, hit the airwaves and became Chess Records first major hit.

Berry’s lyrical music was often referred to as poetic, telling a full story in three minutes. Many still refer to Berry as the Poet Laureate of Rock-n-roll. And, if that’s not enough of a cultural impact, consider the number of baby boomers, black and white teens, hearing the music and dancing together!

Seemingly, Berry realized his talent and its monetary worth demanding cash upfront before his performances. Berry began investing in real estate and by the late 1960’s created Berry Park with a 17,000 square foot mansion and the world’s first guitar shaped swimming pool. Unfortunately, Berry’s financial reporting came under scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service. In addition, Berry created some powerful adversaries.

Local St. Louis businessman, theatre owner, developer and proprietor of Blueberry Hill, Joe Edwards, reminisced on Berry’s enormous impact on the local music scene and lamented the impact racism had on Berry’s career and personal life. On the nearby University City Delmar Loop Walk of Fame, the name “Chuck Berry” adorns star number one.

Unquestionably, Berry’s music and showmanship will stand the test of time. Chuck Berry ensures, Chuck Berry the man is given his rightful due. Highly recommended!

*It is a tribute to both Chuck Berry and the 50th Nashville Film Festival to premiere Chuck Berry.

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