On the eve of his 60th birthday, legendary songwriter and pioneering rocknroller Chuck Berry assembles a crack international band, including Keith Richards and Eric Clapton, to perform an anniversary concert in his hometown of St. Louis. Interspersed with raw-sounding rehearsals and lively performances of hits like "Maybelline" and "Roll Over, Beethoven" are interviews with associates, bandmates, and famous admirers like Bruce Springsteen and Jerry Lee Lewis. But above all, the star of the show is Berry, a guarded, mysterious, and often difficult character who hides as much as he reveals.
Filmed in 1986 and produced by Berry for Oscar-nominated director Hackford, "Hail! Hail!" is much more than a rollicking concert documentary (Etta James, Linda Ronstadt, and Julian Lennon are all on the bill) and long-overdue homage to the musician most closely associated with the birth of rock 'n' roll. Berry gives Hackford a tour of his home studio and old haunts, divulging intimate details of his life and career, but blocks uncomfortable questions posed to his longtime manager and hardly-seen wife. It takes Richards, who has a curiously ambivalent personal relationship with his idol, to sum up the essential enigma of Chuck Berry: "The more we learn about him, the less we know."