Monday, July 3, 2017


          Elvis left the building forty years ago next month, but he also left a body of material from which we may perpetually draw.
          Of all the many movies he made, arguably the best is the one where he's himself.
          In 1970 MGM released the Presley documentary Elvis: That's the Way It Is. Directed by Denis Sanders--who incidentally received an Academy Award in 1954 for Best Short Subject--the film features Las Vegas concert footage as well as backstage footage rehearsing, mingling at functions, and more.
          In 2001, Turner Classic Movies released a special edition 12 minutes shorter than the original, yet containing more music. For Elvis fans the backstage material is invaluable. However, it's nowhere near as entertaining as the concerts.
          What we get is a 35 year-old King of Rock n' Roll knockin' 'em dead with showmanship, presence, and voice like no one ever experienced before and we've never gotten since. Except, that is, for three years later, when he performed his 1973 "Aloha From Hawaii" TV special, which was the first ever program beamed around the world by satellite.
          It does detract from the experience for the film to start with the Culver City rehearsal footage. Giddy delight though it be to see Elvis alternately clowning around with the band and getting in the zone, some viewers might give up waiting to see what the big deal is about.
          Not surprisingly, we find that the band doesn't really have a voice. They're all pretty quiet, as though they're simply there to please their boss. Which they are.
          At this point in his career, Elvis was transitioning from movies to performing live again--he spent most of the '60s doing low-budget pictures that brought in big money--specifically performing live in Las Vegas. Watch the film and get a sense of why the King broke attendance records.
          When, for example, he performs in his jumpsuit "Suspicious Minds," he reaches with his right hand down, way down to where there is secret energy of which Elvis knows, and the lights dim as the music fades...but then the lights come back up, and the music blares as he propels the energy in his hand up now and out, outward! And all without splitting his britches. It's incredible.

Starring Elvis Presley,
James Burton,
Glen Hardin,
Charley Hodge,
Jerry Scheff,
Ronnie Tutt,
Estell Brown,
Sylvia Shemmell,
Ann Williams
Directed by Denis Sanders
Runtime 97 minutes
Rated PG

Dig the King?
Check out a new story I have going called GRAYSLAND and see what Elvis, whose death was staged, has been doing for the last forty years on the moon.

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