Jerry Lee Lewis: The Story of Rock and Roll was first produced in 1991 and released on DVD in 2001. It has some strengths but ultimately is a missed opportunity for greatness. Some of the live performances seen here are astounding. Jerry Lee Lewis played rhythm & blues like a man possessed. You haven't experienced his music until you see he curly hair bouncing to the beat of a piano virtually on fire. The core of this DVD is Lewis' performance at the Toronto Rock n Roll Revival concert in 1969 where he shared the bill with Little Richard, among others. Seeing slightly older Lewis exhibit his electrifying charisma and wow the Woodstock generation is a testament to what might have been. His sexual, kinetic performance is one of the all-time greats. The well-preserved footage of Lewis' comeback on the show Shin Dig and the Steve Allen Show is worth the price of this DVD alone. And the audio from the Toronto gig is CD worthy, especially his performances of "Hound Dog," "Don't Be Cruel," and "Whole Lotta Shakin'." But the biggest flaw with Jerry Lee Lewis: The Story of Rock and Roll is the abdication of a documentarian's voice. The problem is that the DVD has some the qualities of a concert video and a documentary but the discipline of neither. It captures some great live performances and long-lost archival footage to be sure, but rarely identifies them. Worst of all, Jerry Lee Lewis: The Story of Rock and Roll has no expressed point. The film's thesis that Jerry Lee Lewis' story IS the story of rock & roll and that his fall from grace signaled the onslaught of pop slop is barely supported by a cogent or articulate narrator. Mainly Jerry Lee Lewis: The Story of Rock and Roll offers a string of newspaper and photo montages while Lewis performs some great rock rhythm & blues. But unbelievably, there is little to no commentary about why what is being shown is important. (Listening to the audio while reading a microfiche machine or someone's doctoral thesis would be a better lesson in rock & roll.) There is actually a scene where Bobby Vee sings "A Night Has a Thousand Eyes" and the viewer is supposed to be offended that beach blanket pop is the flavor of the day while Jerry Lee Lewis should have been tearing it up. Filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegeders clearly want viewers to make that interpretation. But they don't say that. This is not subtle cinéma vérité filmmaking, à la "Direct Cinema," but a rather poor documentary. Jerry Lee Lewis: The Story of Rock and Roll has a wonderful collection of archival footage but terrible history bordering on infuriating. More than a missed opportunity, their neglect is embarrassing and inexcusable and makes the worst, redundant Behind the Music on a one-hit-wonder look like a revelation. Jerry Lee Lewis was rock's first wild man who combined talent and danger in equal measures. It is significant that Lewis' public relations troubles exacted a high and unrecoupable price from the rock cannon. The story of rock & roll is one of turbulence and risk and no one embodies that struggle better than "the Killer" himself. Sadly, if you talk to yourself (or read this review and the Jerry Lee Lewis biography), Jerry Lee Lewis: The Story of Rock and Roll becomes an infinitely better DVD.
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