Second Sight Documentary Releases: Chuck Berry (2018) - Reviewed

Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Jon Brewer has been covering musical artists from the past since the mid-2000s when he first explored the legacy of Kurt Cobain before moving onto Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Nat King Cole and most recently David Bowie.  A thorough and unbiased documentarian who presents all the ups and downs of a professional music career with all the good and bad on full display, it was only a matter of time before Brewer would circle back to the man who made rock and roll music mainstream: Chuck Berry.

Much like the recently released Belushi documentary, the film uses a mixture of preexisting footage interspersed with newly rendered animated dramatizations of the events of Chuck Berry’s life.  With a cavalcade of archival footage at his disposal, Brewer brings to life the history of ostensibly the original king of rock ‘n’ roll.  Highlighting his barrier breaking music, the film also presents a variety of interviews both preexisting and newly shot for the documentary, presenting a kaleidoscopic portrait of one of the music industry’s most legendary performers. 
Part of what makes this particular Chuck Berry documentary so definitive on the man’s life is that it leaves nothing off the table.  In other hands this would veer towards hagiography, but Brewer presents all the highlights as well as controversies surrounding the man’s life.  You get a full picture of the man and come away respecting his life’s work but also acknowledge the skeletons in the man’s closet as well.  For dedicated fans of the music of Chuck Berry the film won’t tell them anything they didn’t already know but for newcomers it proves to be a most informative portrait.

Chuck Berry
left behind a complicated legacy and the film doesn’t try to sugar coat his own personal demons that perhaps were the driving force behind his music.  If nothing else, that we’re given the cold hard truth brings a greater appreciation for the work as well as the man behind it with all the positives and negatives there plainly to be seen.  At one point the film touches on Taylor Hackford’s troubled concert documentary film Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll which captured both a great performance as well as a rarely seen side of the man known as Chuck Berry.  While that film remains a monumental concert film, this new Chuck Berry offers a fuller retrospective of his life’s work and just what made the king of rock ‘n’ roll tick.

--Andrew Kotwicki