Few made-for-TV movies have been good enough to even warrant putting on DVD but the 1999 Alan Freed story, Mr. Rock ‘N Roll, starring Judd Nelson is one that many felt worthy. Well, “many” may be a bit overkill, but with a star like Nelson in the lead and Paula Abdul in a supporting role, the film wasn’t exactly getting any better in terms of star power and releasing it now while Abdul is still in the news is probably the only way this will sell copies. Still, the 1999 film did have one thing for it at the very least—a copious amount of music from the 1950’s that made the film feel, at the very least, authentic for the period.
Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire) plays the legendary Cleveland DJ, who was not afraid to acknowledge the power of R&B music, and who stood in the face of racial controversy in the 1950s. While the public at large believed “Race Records” were poisoning the minds of the young, Freed tapped into this burgeoning youth culture. He saw the eruptive energy and pure joy it evoked in teenagers, and became its on-air prophet at its inception. He also realized rock ‘n’ roll music was a viable market, and that teens were rabidly buying the records that they would hear on his shows. He would later endure controversy for payola scandals, but one cannot deny the impact this one Cleveland man had on generations upon generations of music fans and pop culture. Madchen Amick (E.R.) and Paula Abdul also star in the film.
“True story” is subjective in this case; reading older reviews of this film online seem to point that the film took more than a few embellishments, twisting the history of the times up and combining events together that formed a kind of hyper-truth, rather than merely playing with the simple facts. But, again, that’s to be expected with any “true” story—very rarely is anything not embellished. Unfortunately I don’t have any real history to base this film off of—I neither saw it when it originally aired, nor do I know much about Freed to really declare how much of this film is legitimate or not. Sadly little is available on the man as to what this movie portrays, so what exactly is genuine about this release, I honestly couldn’t say.
But the film is moderately entertaining to watch, at least. In a way that Grease or That Thing You Do! is, at least; it’s also a bit reminiscent of Walk the Line, but obviously not as powerful or moving (this is a TV movie after all…starring Judd Nelson). It’s basic in most instances, but the mass of music they actually got the license to (lip synced, of course) is quite amazing. Then again I don’t know if a license is really required since the music is only heard in short bursts, so it couldn’t have cost them much to produce this film…paying licensing fees for all of that music would’ve cost more than the production of the film.
The actors here are pretty basic; Nelson is a decent Freed…I assume anyway; like I said, I know nothing about the man so he could’ve completely done a horrendous impression of him. Paula Abdul’s brief role is a fly-by-the-night type thing and the lightning fast appearances by legends Bobby Rydell and Fabian are so brief you’ll wonder why they were even brought in at all (aside from some tongue-in-cheek type references for those familiar with the time period this film represents).
Overall Mr. Rock ‘N Roll is a fair film, but only if you really care about the time period or the characters. Even then it’s more of a heightened reality than a completely gripping tale—it’s only 88 minutes, so don’t a sweeping epic is basically what I’m getting at. Worth a Rental if you’re curious.
The DVD is brought out by Eagle Media (an arm of Eagle Rock Entertainment) and arrives in a standard clear Amaray case with a double sided jacket. There is no insert and disc art is surprisingly well done (some of the Eagle Media productions look very, very cheesy). Video is a 4×3 transfer that is moderately better than what you’d get from the television presentation, although it definitely looks like a 1999 production in terms of video clarity. Audio is crisp, however, and is represented well by a DD Stereo 2.0 mix.
Extras? None. Absolutely nothing here but the film (which is good cause this a single layer disc, so anything other than the movie and transfer quality would suffer).
You can safely Skip this one—unless you’re a huge 1950’s music or Judd Nelson, I doubt you’ll find anything worthwhile here outside of a single viewing.
Mr. Rock ‘N Roll is now available on DVD.