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Greenpoint Film Festival: ‘Chuck Berry’ review: Hail hail rock ‘n’ roll

A personal look at one of the most important names in rock ‘n’ roll.

Much like its namesake, Chuck Berry captures the attention of its audience immediately. The documentary starts off in black and white. There are occasional bright flashes of neon red. It is clear from the beginning this is not going to be a typical film about a musician. Chuck Berry is one of the most influential musicians of all time. He basically invented rock ‘n’ roll and his influence can still be seen today. He also dealt with racism, numerous brushes with the law, and his own decisions.

The documentary has a large amount of interviews. This is unsurprising since Berry influenced so many people. Members of the E Street Band, Joe Perry, and Alice Cooper are just some of the people interviewed. It is an impressive list of names. The interviews show how much respect Berry has earned. He is spoken of by everyone in reverent tones. To many he transcends “groundbreaking”. He is literally equated to rock ‘n’ roll. 

An overarching theme of Chuck Berry is racism. In the beginning, it is talks about what he could have been. Many agree that as popular as Berry was, he would have even had greater renown as a white man. Things take a different tone when many rock legends talk about how Berry influenced them. There is also talk about Berry’s effect on American society. He brought black and white kids together. In a documentary filled with great moments, these moments are still able to stand out.

A personal look at one of the most important names in rock 'n' roll.

Chuck Berry does not just focus on the positive aspects of Berry’s life. He also had to deal with numerous conflicts due to the color of his skin. Berry has numerous encounters with the law that seem more about harassment than any crime committed. He also had many business ventures that were sabotaged due to his race. The documentary constantly reminds the audience no matter how good things were in his life, Berry had to deal with bias.

The film makes sure to mention how many of Berry’s issues were self inflicted. Chuck Berry does not go too deep into this part of the musician’s life. It is a celebration of his life and not a time to drag skeletons out of the closet. Chuck Berry is a personal documentary that covers the career of the man who invented rock ‘n’ roll. Through interviews with family, friends, and those he influenced, the film does a great job of showing his importance. It will appeal to fans of all kinds of music.

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