Category Archives: Film

“QUEEN OF HEARTS: AUDREY FLACK”— An Artist You Have Never Heard Of

“QUEEN OF HEARTS: AUDREY FLACK”

An Artist You Have Never Heard Of

Amos Lassen

Director Rachel Reichman brings us a documentary about an artist I had never heard of before viewing this film, Audrey Flack.

Flack began as a student of art, and then  became an artist, at the height of Abstract Expressionism. She wanted something different and by the late 1960s/early 1970s, she was fully immersed in what would be called Photorealism and was the only woman among the men to bring forth a style of painting that took an approach that was opposite to Abstract Expressionism, creating works inspired by photography with her own unique perspectives embedded in each piece. By the early 1980s, Flack became bored with this and became a sculptor and teacher while constantly innovating.

Her story is told through a circular narrative that begins with Flack discussing a canvas she abandoned when she moved on to sculpting. She returns to that canvas at the end as she prepares a new retrospective exhibit of her work, We see the details of her art.

This is a retrospective look at the career of the eighty-eight year old American artist, most known as an early photorealist painter of the 1960-70s. She is a metamorphosing artist with a unique point of view with a penchant for rule breaking and her paintings are large scale hyperreal that bring together “poppy postmodernism with the iconographies and trompe l’oeil illusions of Baroque art.”

The film is narrated by interviews conducted with Flack, and art historians, curators, and gallerists who look at the artist’s beginnings as a young Cooper Union student where she met abstract expressionists who had a large influence on Flack’s work. s, simply, “cold.”

Of its many goals, the feminist art movement of the 1960s and 1970s was interested in the recovery of works by women. By offering a detailed record of her contributions to this period, “Queen of Hearts” shows Flack as a key part of this history. As we watch Flack’s star rise, we see that her innovations became threatening to a patriarchal art world. Interview footage with a much younger Flack had and still has a frustration in response to misinterpretations of her work shaped by the misogyny and anti-Semitism of critics; as well her ostracism from realist art circles who rejected painting from photographs. Eventually, these pressures became so overwhelming that she stopped painting and moved to sculpture. 

Flack  emerges as an inspiring figure who is open, contemplative, and sharp. Her need to create is incredible.

“THE ROAD TO MANDALAY”— A Dark Look at Migration

“THE ROAD TO MANDALAY”

A Dark Look at Migration

Amos Lassen

 In “The Road to Mandalay” we see that even a small  move  from Myanmar to Thailand can be like crossing of a tremendous gap. The path is filled with border guards who demand increasingly high payment and that it does not get any better once the destination is reached.

Lianqing (Wu Ke-Xi) is automatically ito a young man and fellow refugee, Guo (Ko Kai), when he offers her his front seat spot in his truck. When the two and several other rough travelers arrive in Bangkok, she tries to repay him with home-cooked Burmese meals and gratitude but he has more than that in mind.

Lianqing’s journey begins when she is a determined, willing to work and grind until she makes it in her new environment. She scrubs dishes at a dive restaurant to send money back home, while at the same time actively tries to get legitimate papers in all the wrong places. She pays outlandish prices for documents that get her nowhere, and finds herself under constant scrutiny by local authorities.

When she begins working in a factory, her mood drops, changes but her motivation to succeed grows stronger. Different scenes both condemn the deplorable working conditions in the factory while commending the unbreakable spirits of the migrants  who work at these dismal posts. The film does not justexploit the horrific day-to-day realities of Southeast Asian factories. Director Midi Z also shows the sense of possibility, romance, and excitement that comes with change. Moments of bliss undercut the movie’s darker scenes with a kind of resignation. Lianqing and Guo have different ideas of paradise, and divergent ways of reaching it. We see the  kind of promise Lianqing wanted out of Thailand and her future in general. The end of the film reflects the experiences of people metaphorically.

Burma has been an object of fascination to creative outsiders, but there are still very few of its own people who tell their own stories. Director Midi Z spent much of his own life elsewhere yet is able to tell the story of migrants from his home town of Lashio in Shan province. Trusting to people smugglers to carry them to a new life in Thailand, Lianqing and Guo are strangers thrown together by fate. To Guo, it’s an opportunity for romance, but Lianqing has other ideas.

Even with the initial focus on Burma, this is a film that is relevant to migrants all over the world. Much of what Z sets out to show is that his homeland ordinary as far as peasants are concerned. Guo wants to save up money in Thailand, get home as soon as he can and start a business. Lianqing sends money home to her mother each week but for her, Thailand is only the beginning. She’s set her sights on more prosperous parts of the Far East. She’s willing to work hard in restaurants and factories doing whatever she can get, but her target is a desk job in a big company where she can wear a suit and make a good salary to have a good life. Her starting point is Thai citizenship but for this she will strive against all odds, even as Guo, pushes himself into her life at every opportunity and she begins to believe that it’s pointless.

Z avoids the issue of sexual exploitation except in one surreal scene on which all the rest pivots  and focuses instead on ways that people without papers are routinely abused— the slum housing, the dangerous machinery, the long hours, the fees for almost everything. Many are grateful for what they get, and there is friendship and a sense of community, despite threats and bribery to keep them in line. There is never a sense that  these people are stupid, they simply have limited options.

Gao’s is eager to make a pseudo-sacrifice in order to impress. Lianqing’s wariness and immediate sense that she should distance herself from him is what he chips away at, perhaps without understanding what he is doing, exploits her sense of honor and image of herself as a friendly person. Sometime real friendship seems possible, but he must accept it on her terms showing a situation that most women understand. Lianqing is seeking not just to flee Burma but to free herself from the expectations that are part of her sex. This is a strong, atmospheric piece of work that has something to say about the human spirit.

“ONCE UPON A RIVER”— A Native American Coming-of-Age Story

“ONCE UPON A RIVER”

A Native American Coming-of-Age Story

Amos Lassen

Margo Crane (Kenadi DelaCerna) is a Native American teenager in 1977. She lives in a cabin with her father Bernard (Tatanka Means) in rural Michigan and thinks that she is a wonder with a rifle.

When Margo learns of the death of her father Bernard, she takes her family canoe down the Stark River to find her estranged mother Luanne (Lindsay Pulsipher), who abandoned them for reasons that are not clear to us.

 

 

Margo is not the ideal person. We learn that she had sex with her uncle Cal (Murray Coburn Goss) and this led to her father killing Cal. Then Cal’s angry son Billy (Sam Straley) retaliated by killing Bernard. Margo, then, turns for help to Brian (Dominic Bogart), but his i friend Paul (Evan Linder) appears and she reconsiders and decides to act on her own. She takes her rifle along and uses it to hunt for food and protection.

She meets Will ( Ajuwak Kapashesit), shares a meal with him and makes love with him and becomes pregnant.  Going back to the river again, she meets Smoke (John Ashton), an elderly man who is ill and is advised to move on after staying for a while to take care of Smoke. She eventually finds selfish mother (Lindsay Pulsipher), who tries to explain why she left the family.

We see Margo’s  growing pains and how deeply affected she is by her situation and, by and large, this is quite a depressing film. There are several comedic moments but the story meanders and at times is hard to follow.

This is director Haroula Rose’s debut feature film and it is filled with laconic, intense dialogue expressing the desperation of the characters living in rural Michigan. The film features Kenadi DelaCerna’s beautiful performance as Margo Crane and the rest of the cast is also excellent. Conflicted relationships  are brought to the forefront and provide the center that complements the rustic river scenes that show us a natural word that is more submissive than vivid. The story is told in the tradition of Huck Finn.

Margo’s life is disrupted when she becomes part of a family tragedy that causes  her to escape and to travel upriver on a journey to find her estranged mother, the only family she has left. We see an individual in nature through medium shots that keep a focus on family dynamics and other forms of personal interaction. Margo is independent minded, a young grown-up that has lived her life among confused, dissatisfied school kids and their parents that are equally astray. However, once she begins her journey, she seems to be in harmony with her element. She finds temporary guardians, who, unlike the locals from whom she is escaping, treat her with respect and accept her ways of being an ace shot with a rifle and proficient with living off the land.

“NELSON ALGREN LIVE”— Remembering Nelson Algren

“NELSON ALGREN LIVE”

Remembering Nelson Algren

Amos Lassen

Director Oscar Bucher takes us back to the life of Nelson Algren, one of the most neglected American writers and also one of the best loved. He wrote “about the dark underbelly of post-war America before it was ever fashionable to do so.” Algren is best known for the novel “The Man with the Golden Arm” and was a writer of the down-and-outer, about his Chicago and he boldly depicted the life of the city’s drunks, pimps, prostitutes, drug addicts, corrupt politicians, and hoodlums. On what would have been his 100th birthday, a group of actors and writers came together at Steppenwolf Theater to premiere Nelson Algren Live-an onstage reading and celebration of his life and work in his own words. This is the film version of that event in which Barry Gifford is Algren’s voice and Willem Dafoe gives as stunning performance of a punch-drunk prizefighter that brings us a newly unearthed story

We have a reading from some previously unpublished Algren work and see Banks; Barry Gifford; Don DeLillo; and, in a mere cameo, “playing” Algren’s great pal, Studs Terkel; Algren’s last editor, Dan Simon, who runs Seven Stories Press; and actors Kathy Scambiatterra, Randall Newsome, Dafoe and Steppenwolf’s then-artistic director Martha Lavey.

The film is built around a series of interviews Algren gave in the early 1960s to writer H.E.F. “Shag” Donohue, later published as “Conversations with Nelson Algren.” Algren talks about a lot of things, and though he shows his  legendary sense of humor.

With a jazzy soundtrack and dozens of photographs by Art Shay, Algren’s great friend and companion on journeys through the city’s wild and sordid side, the film pulls us in immediately. Those who have never read or heard of Algren will enjoy it through the wonderful performances. Dafoe’s Blackie Cavanaugh, the drunken boxer at the heart and soul of a 1939 short story titled “The Lightless Room” is stunning. Dafoe delivers the sad details of a life poorly-lived in haunting lines.

“BLADE: THE IRON CROSS”— Dark and Weird

“BLADE: THE IRON CROSS”

Dark and Weird

Amos Lassen

Sick science, punishing puppets, clairvoyant crusaders and a fascist zombies make “BLADE: THE IRON CROSS!” the strangest of the Puppet Master films. Dr. Hauser, the Third Reich’s maddest scientist has murder and mayhem on his mind. As Hauser’s heinous crimes are discovered, the psychic war journalist, Elisa Ivanov, awakens Blade, and together a bloody journey of revenge begins. It’s Herr Hauser’s reanimated undead army against a possessed doll and a beautiful vengeance-seeking clairvoyant.

Fans of the Puppet Master Universe have longed for a good Blade origin story since the very first movie. At first, this feels like it is going to be that film. Director John Lechago gives it a gritty feel like an early American noir film. Vincent Cusimano as Detective Jonas Gray has the persona of a fedora-sporting hardboiled cop down to a science and gives the best performance of the film (which is not saying much). The psychic war-reporter, portrayed by Tania Fox, is intriguing in concept, but sadly quite wooden as performance goes.

I liked the film all the way through the first half. Lousy acting is to be expected in B-horror sometimes, and the premise of it had me engaged at the onset. Set in 1945 during WWII, it has a great retro atmosphere and the perfect dark mood. However the screenplay is awful.

I did not care a bit about the characters, the dialogue is stilted, uninteresting, and completely ineffective for the most part, and from about the halfway point onward, I was bored. There is nothing  scary and the “special” effects are not special.

Yet, it is a decent film that is hardboiled and gritty, fun and bloody and it makes promises in the beginning. Then the second half breaks every single one of them. I completely lost interest in the film and had to force myself through the rest of it.

“VERSUS”— A Japanese Gore Fest

“VERSUS”

A Japanese Gore Fest

Amos Lassen

If you are a fan of pointless and outrageous fight scenes and erratic characters, “Versus” is a film for you. It has zombies, cheesy humor and epic sword and gun fights. The plot is unique and keeps us wondering at the end of the film of who is truly the evil and good one in this world. The picture quality is excellent but the story line is a little ridiculous for a movie, making it fun to watch. This ultimate edition has a lot of extra interviews and behind the scenes footage.

More questions than answers are raised in the “Versus,” since director Ryûhei Kitamura seems intent on mixing eerie, bizarre plot twists all through the simple plot. It has plenty of gore, fighting and a brilliant debut performance by Tak Sakaguchi.  There is a wonderful battle scene between good and evil that apparently lasts throughout multiple reincarnated lives and we’re not quite sure which is which. According to the movie, there are 666 portals concealed in this world, which connect to the “other side.” One of these is in Japan, called the Forest of Resurrection — which apparently is connected to a long ago priest and samurai’s fight.

Now Prisoner KSC2-303 (Sakaguchi) and his fellow escapee are met near the Forest by a gang of mobsters, and the tense atmosphere becomes a bloody war. Dead bodies begin savagely attacking people. The prisoner escapes with a mysterious girl (Chieko Misaka) whom the mobsters had been ordered to bring  and he is compelled to protect her. She seems strangely familiar to him.

The mobsters pursue the girl and the prisoner into the Forest, trying to kill them both  but the prisoner and the leader both cause even more deaths and more bloodthirsty zombies. This is apparently a never-ending battle throughout the centuries in this very Forest, over a young woman with a mysterious power.  It brings Prisoner KSC2-303 up against an ancient enemy (Hideo Sakaki) whom he’s fought in many prior incarnations.

“Versus” is a movie to be watched twice because of the cryptic twists and strange explanations that are hard to get with one viewing. It is a horror/action flick on the surface that becomes even more than that as the story of the Man versus the Prisoner is slowly revealed through flashbacks, hints of familiarity, and a twist at the end  that turns everything upside down.

Many of the questions raised are left unanswered and left to the imagination. Ryûhei Kitamura gives fine direction with lots of action. There is a lot of blood, dismembered body parts and savage fights with guns, swords and fists. There is also a certain gruesome sense of humor and lots ] of over-the-top gore.

“Versus” is a layered, twisted tale with plenty of gore that is bound to become a cult film.

“TREMORS”— Limited Edition in 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

“TREMORS”

 Limited Edition in 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Amos Lassen

Last night, I watched “Tremors” again; I had not seen it in many years and I was amazed how much I loved it (and how much I had forgotten about it). The monster movie is just gorgeous to watch in 4K ULTRA HD.

Handymen Val (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward) are sick of their dead-end jobs the desert town of Perfection, Nevada with its population of 14. Just as they are about to leave Perfection forever, strange things begin to happen— half-eaten corpses litter the road out of town; the phone lines stop working; and a young female scientist finds evidence of unusually strong seismic activity in the area. It seems that something is coming for the citizens of Perfection and it’s under the goddamn ground. I really love that this is a film that can’t decide if it is a horror film or a comedy.

The threat comes in the form of four house trailer-sized worm-creatures, with multiple serpent like tongues, that tunnel underground before bursting up to devour human prey. All the conventions of the horror genre are here: a small town in the middle of nowhere isolated from outside help and a scientist on hand to study strange seismic phenomena. After that, however, “Tremors” is filled with clichés (but I do not mean that in a negative way). The scientist, for example, is a pretty young woman (Finn Carter) who doesn’t know where the monsters come from or understand why everyone keeps asking her to explain. The handyman heroes then carry on in comedic ways. As the movie moves forward, the pacing and action improve considerably and has a tongue-in-cheek approach while the situation becomes more perilous.

This is a creature feature that successfully won support. Directed by Ron Underwood, this 1990 horror comedy is equal parts scary, daft, witty and warm hearted. The cast is excellent and the screenplay wins us over from the moment the film begins. and a beautifully judged script that will win you over in no time. It uses the idea that the less we see of the monsters, the scarier they are.

Kevin Bacon as slacker handyman Val, doing odd jobs alongside his buddy Earl (Fred Ward) is wonderful as is Ward. They never quite get things together to move out of Perfection. It’s the sort of town one only really sees in Westerns: buildings barely held together, everybody is poor dirt poor and have no real prospects. Then the mysterious deaths begin. As we wait for more deaths, emphasis is placed on strong characters, inventive death sequences and successful pacing. The cast engages enthusiastically with their roles, each deftly drawn and carefully situated within the group dynamic. Michael Gross and Reba McEntire are fantastic as gung-ho survivalist couple, the Gummers, and Finn Carter provides more than just love interest as Rhonda, the seismology student who conveniently happens to be passing through. The chemistry between Bacon and Ward that really clinches it. The action sequences are exciting but they are also silly enough to remind us that the film appreciates its cheap and cheerful origins. The pacing is superb, with both horror and comedy perfectly timed to and the film only slows down when it wants to make us really nervous.

There is not a great deal of depth to this film, but that’s fine. It does a fine job of using its simple set-up to challenge prejudices about poor communities at the same time using them for comic effect. While we may laughing at the characters, we also root for them to survive. Their humanity makes them appealing. The affection they have for one another makes them easy to identify and we become involved in their lives and near deaths and we have fun doing so.

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  New 4K restoration from the original negative by Arrow Films, approved by director Ron Underwood & director of photography Alexander Gruszynski 

  60-page perfect-bound book featuring new writing by Kim Newman & Jonathan Melville & selected archive materials 

  Large fold-out double-sided poster featuring original & newly commissioned artwork by Matt Frank + Small fold-out double-sided poster featuring new Graboid X-ray art by Matt Frank 

  Six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproduction art cards 

  Limited Edition packaging w/ reversible sleeve featuring original & newly commissioned artwork by Matt Frank 

DISC 1 FEATURE & EXTRAS (4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY)

 

  4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)

  Restored DTS-HD MA original theatrical 2.0 stereo, 4.0 surround, & remixed 5.1 surround audio options

  Optional English subtitles

  New audio commentary by director Ron Underwood & writers/producers Brent Maddock & S.S. Wilson

  New audio commentary by Jonathan Melville, author of Seeking Perfection: The Unofficial Guide to Tremors

  Making Perfection, a new documentary by Universal Pictures interviewing key cast & crew from the franchise (including Kevin Bacon, Michael Gross, Ariana Richards, Ron Underwood, Brent Maddock & S.S. Wilson, among many others) & revisiting the original locations

  The Truth About Tremors, a newly filmed interview w/ co-producer Nancy Roberts on the film s rocky road to the screen

  Bad Vibrations, a newly filmed interview w/ director of photography Gruszynski

  Aftershocks & Other Rumblings, newly filmed on-set stories from associate producer Ellen Collett

  Digging in the Dirt, a new featurette interviewing the crews behind the film s extensive visual effects

  Music for Graboids, a new featurette on the film s music with composers Ernest Troost & Robert Folk

  Pardon My French!, a newly assembled compilation of overdubs from the edited-for television version

  The Making of Tremors, an archive documentary from 1995 by Laurent Bouzereau, interviewing the filmmakers & special effects teams

  Creature Featurette, an archive compilation of on-set camcorder footage showing the making of the Graboids

  Electronic press kit featurette & interviews with Kevin Bacon, Michael Gross & Reba McEntire

  Deleted scenes, including the original opening scene

  Theatrical trailers, TV & radio spots for the original film + trailers for the entire Tremors franchise

  Comprehensive image galleries, including rare behind-the-scenes stills, storyboards & two different drafts of the screenplay

DISC 2 INTERVIEWS & SHORT FILMS (LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE)

  Extended hour-long interviews with Ron Underwood, creature designer Alec Gillis & more!

  Outtakes w/ optional introduction & commentary by S.S. Wilson

  Three early shorts by the makers of Tremors

“SURVIVOR BALLADS”— Three Films by Shohei Imamura (3-Disc Special Edition) [Blu-ray]

“SURVIVOR BALLADS”

Three Films by Shohei Imamura (3-Disc Special Edition) [Blu-ray]

Amos Lassen

In the 1980s, Shohei Imamura was a leading figure of the Japanese New Wave era of the 1960s. His reputation made him one of the most important directors of his generation and his films all competed at Cannes to great critical reception. This exclusive box set from Arrow Academy presents restored versions of three late career classics from the  filmmaker.

Based on an ancient folktale, “The Ballad of Narayama” (1983) was the first of two works from the director to win the prestigious Cannes Palme d Or. It depicts the members of an extended farming family eking out their existence in the mountainous north of Japan and against the backdrop of the changing seasons. But then village lore decrees they make the sacrifice of abandoning their aged mother on the top of a nearby mountain when she turns 70-years-old.

“Zegen” (1987) is a satirical look at Japan’s prewar colonial expansion through the  eyes of its flesh-peddler antihero as he establishes a prostitution enterprise across Southeast Asia.

“Black Rain” (1989) is the story the precarious existence of a household of atomic bomb survivors as, five years after being caught in the Hiroshima bombing. They struggle to find a husband for their 25-year-old niece.

What we see is the director’s almost documentary style of filmmaking, that shows the vulgar yet vibrant and instinctive underside of Japanese society through a sympathetic focus on peasants, prostitutes, criminal lowlife and other marginalized figures. The films explore the schism between the country’s timeless premodern traditions and the modern face it has since shown the world.

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  Restored High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentations of all three films

  Original lossless Japanese PCM 1.0 mono soundtracks

  Optional English subtitles

  Brand new audio commentaries on all three films by Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp

  Brand new, in-depth appreciations of all three films by Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns

  Alternate color ending to Black Rain, shot by Imamura but removed from the film shortly before its release

  Archival interviews on Black Rain with actress Yoshiko Tanaka and assistant director Takashi Miike

  Multiple trailers and image galleries

  Original Japanese press kits for The Ballad of Narayama and Black Rain (BD-ROM content)

  Limited edition 60-page booklet containing new writing by Tom Mes

  Limited edition packaging featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella

“TOURIST TRAP”— VHS Retro Big Box Collection [Blu-ray + DVD]

“TOURIST TRAP”

VHS Retro Big Box Collection [Blu-ray + DVD]

Amos Lassen

Set in theeerie and deserted Slausen’s Lost Oasis, a wax museum. “Tourist Trap” aims for spine-tingling terror. Four unsuspecting young travelers are lured there. Slausen (Chuck Connors) is the reclusive and bizarre owner of place which is actually more like a chamber of horrors. The grotesque and frightening mannequins in this sordid side-show are just the beginning of murderous mayhem and nightmarish madness.

Early on we see howSlausen  treats stranded teens. The older man. He always carries a shotgun, wears overalls, lives alone and offers too much help. The teens who come onto his property make it too easy for Slausen. He is a creative killer, using telekinesis to animate mannequins or shoot knives into victims. The film really succeeds in its execution, including a clever, scintillating opening sequence, and frequent dark basements with plaster people hugging the walls. More than typical suburbs or campgrounds, the out-of-time locale serves the horror. For Slausen, time stopped when modern society moved away because a freeway was built and he says this a lot.

Slausen is purposeful as part of that old guard who can’t accept changing morals. Hence his past misdeeds, held for reveal until the final act, give the character demented purpose. Even though the film moves slowly, the creative is evident. Writer/director David Schmoeller twists the hero role, pulling off a successful bait and switch. He breaks down norms, even against modern standards.

Other than Slausen, there’s little in the way of character. Archetypes merely fill space. There is  the slutty girl willing to skinny dip, the shy puritan who is apprehensive of joining in. but their time comes. They are set against a truly unnerving killer who likes leaning into light with his eerie masked face.

When Woody’s (Keith McDermott) car breaks down he looks  for help and dummies come to life and lure him in. They then violently dispatch the visitor and he turns up as a mannequin. That night his three friends come to look for him and stop off for a swim. They meet the sexy Becky (Tanya Roberts) and take her along to the museum. Too bad the teens were unaware Davey Slausen (Shailar Coby), the demented brother of the owner, lives there and that he has superhuman strength, and a talent for creating strange mannequins. Soon the mannequins do a number on the teens. One teen survives the nightmare, but is too disorientated to know what happened.

Even though film is dumb and senseless, it has some appeal because of its oddness. Personally, I had fun watching it. Bonus features include: Interview with director David Schmoeller, Rare trailers and director’s commentary.

“CHUCK BERRY: THE ORIGINAL KING OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL” — A Documentary

“CHUCK BERRY: THE ORIGINAL KING OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL”

A Documentary

Amos Lassen

Chuck Berry was “the absolute instigator of rock ‘n’ roll” and in this new documentary he is totally revealed. We see that even with his complete respect from such music legends as John Lennon, Keith Richards, Steven Van Zandt, Joe Perry, Nils Lofgren and Alice Cooper, Berry was a family man. He was also a craftsman of word and chords and a man of great talent and charisma. Director Jon Brewer was personally selected by the Berry Estate to produce and direct the inside story of the man.

We see the first-ever interview with Themetta “Toddy” Suggs, Berry’s wife of 69 years who tells the story of the first artist to be inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Berry was the most important American musician of the 20th Century and the film also looks at Berry’s experience as a Black artist navigating the American racial landscape of the 1950s and later.

In the mid-50s, Berry gave us his original guitar and vocal-based hits “Maybelline,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “You Can’t Catch Me,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” and many others. The lyrics that he wrote were literary, poetic, entertaining, and relevant to American teenagers. With his guitar licks and rhythmic style, he  defined the first generation of rock and roll and remains a staple of the rock guitar vocabulary still today. He became the link between the blues and all that came after him.

Brewer’s film tells Berry’s story through vintage film clips, photos, and memories and insights from the family and friends that knew him the best. He also uses stylized dramatizations of different scenes from Berry’s life that and his interviews with Berry’s relatives and friends show the deeper, human side of Berry that was rarely seen publicly. The film begins with his wife sharing the story of meeting Berry for the first time on May 23rd, 1948. The focus is on  the production of the person Berry actually was and not just the music he played. We also see Berry’s flaws, legal issues, and incarcerations in ways that let us understand him authentically.

Berry’s music is mostly recounted by those who were directly affected and influenced by it. The presence of so many legitimate rock stars in the film shows their reverence for both him and his songs shows his great influence. More than that, though, Brewer shows us the family fan who left his public persona as he raised his kids, even while dealing with the racial divide of 50s America with his music.

“Chuck Berry: The Original King Of Rock ‘N’ Roll” is a total experience for fans of rock music and should not be missed.