Reviews by - Lindsay Planer

As August 16, 2007 marked the 30th Anniversary of Elvis Presley’s passing, we thought it was apropos to spin these recent releases. Each belong in the respective audio and video libraries of all popular music enthusiasts. Even if you don’t consider yourself a fan of ‘The Big E’, this trio offers some of his finest work from both stage and screen. And they just might change the way you feel about the undisputed King of rock and roll.

Elvis Presley -- Viva Las Vegas (Sony/BMG)

This soundtrack disc includes music featured in ABC-TV’s Elvis: Viva Las Vegas special [note: which is scheduled for its North American broadcast premiere in mid-September of 2007]. The documentary delves into Presley’s self-imposed stylistic renaissance as a top drawing concert act during the late 1960s and early ‘70s. This brought the artist back to the top of his game and paved the way for Las Vegas to become one of the globe’s leading live performance Meccas. Remarkably, at one point Elvis held court for nearly 60 consecutive sold out shows on the Strip. Plus, between 1969 until 1976, he was the number one attraction in the world’s greatest resort.

The heart and soul of the package is, of course, the music -- which is derived almost exclusively from Presley’s stints at the International Hotel circa 1970 and at the Hilton in early 1972. The sole exception appropriately kicks off the proceedings with the main title theme from Presley’s film Viva Las Vegas (1964). The remaining two-dozen plus cuts spotlight the best of Elvis's most memorable Vegas-era selections. Among the highlights are covers of “Polk-Salad Annie,” “Release Me,” “Let It Be Me,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” and “Never Been To Spain”. Not to be missed are the superior renditions of “An American Trilogy” and the show-stopping closer “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)”--  a fitting conclusion to an equally dynamic compilation.

Elvis Presley -- Jailhouse Rock - Deluxe Edition (Warner Home Video)
Elvis Presley -- This is Elvis: Two-Disc Special Edition (Warner Home Video)

Either of these collections are suitable launching points for anyone interested in examining the practically palpable command that Elvis had on the silver screen and the comparatively tiny television. Both DVDs are part of a massive reissue campaign spanning two dozen of The King’s cinematic creations.

Jailhouse Rock (1957) has long been considered as one of, if not the best dramatic motion picture that Elvis ever starred in. Presley plays the ambitious and somewhat naïve Vince Everett,  who was jailed for manslaughter after a bar fight. While in prison he has time to hone his talents as a performer. Then, after being paroled, the main character takes an often tumultuous path toward fame and fortune as a singer/actor. Elvis’ commanding stage presence is topped only by the film’s six Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller songs, including “Treat Me Nice,” “I Wanna Be Free” and “Jailhouse Rock” itself -- Presley’s all-time favorite movie production number.  

The 2007 Deluxe Edition is packed with exclusive special features that include a commentary audio option by Elvis authority Steve Pond. Plus, a newly produced mini-doc titled “The Scene That Stole Jailhouse Rock” a behind-the-scenes look at the definitive and unforgettable “Jailhouse Rock” sequence. The entire presentation has been completely restored and digitally remastered. The picture looks better than ever from a 16x9 master that is specifically enhanced for widescreen televisions. The audio is equally spectacular with the Dolby Digital 5.1 playback option constructed from original vintage production elements. All that, and the 1957 first-run theatrical movie trailer too.

It has been more than worth the wait for those of us clamoring to get This is Elvis (1981) onto DVD. This Special Edition pairs the theatrical release on Disc One with the unrated 1983 home video edition -- containing 40 additional minutes of footage -- on Disc Two. By combining dramatized recreations of Elvis’ early life with plenty of actual archival footage from key moments during The King’s career, producer and award-winning documentarians David L. Wolper, Andrew Solt and Malcolm Leo created what is still considered by many as the definitive Elvis Presley biography.

And if any criticism can be leveled at the production value of This Is Elvis, it is during the aforementioned opening sequences, which are depicted like a made-for-TV movie. While not poorly conceived, acted or narrated by any stretch, the re-creations are a tad forced compared to to the remainder of the thoroughly excellent film. All content and subject matter was gleaned from interviews with those whose lives were most directly affected by Presley: his family, Memphis Mafia friends and employees, as well as reclusive manager Colonel Tom Parker. However, the key to the biopic’s success can be found in the intimate home movie footage, classic newsreels and key TV appearances from throughout his life.  

The primary difference between the movie as it was seen by theater-goers and the subsequent home video is the latter’s omission of concert footage showing a painfully overweight and seemingly substance-addled Elvis. This was part of the reason that it was left out of the home video version that came out in the mid ‘80s. Viewers can plainly see Presley as a parody of himself. He stumbles, mumbles and excuses his way through songs he should know by heart -- namely, “Are You Lonesome Tonight”. These pitiful scenes were shot during Presley’s final tour in June of ’77. During the succeeding decades detractors have often pointed here to demean the legend and underscore the flaccid conclusion to the King’s career and life. On a much brighter note, extras include the “Behind the Gates of Graceland” featurette and the 1981film trailer.

If you’re gonna splurge for one Elvis DVD, make it the This is Elvis: Two-Disc Special Edition. It’s not only recommended, but it will provide a springboard for those who simply want to know what all the fuss is (was) about.

Lindsay Planer is a freelance journalist and is the weekday on-air producer at WDYT 1220 AM in Charlotte, NC. He's also a contributor to All Music Guide, CrutchfieldAdvisor.com and the Gaston Gazette.
All comments and questions are encouraged and can be sent to <asthediscspins@earthlink.net>.


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