Kultur // 1992 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // October 1st, 2004
An early look at Elvis Presley's rise to fame.
In 1954, 19-year-old Elvis Aaron Presley entered a small recording studio to record "That's All Right, Mama." Intended as a gift for his beloved mother, the record ended up in the hands of Sun Records head Sam Phillips. Shortly after he signed the young star, Presley and his two piece band engaged in an unofficial 200-stop tour throughout Memphis. So begins Elvis: The Birth of Rock n' Roll, which could have been an illuminating, insightful documentary but instead arrives stillborn with no hope of resuscitation.
The biggest problem of Elvis: The Birth of Rock n' Roll is the lack of solid structure. The description on the keep case promises "seldom heard recordings of Elvis" and significant interviews. The promised content is present, but it is thrown together without any thought. Interviews with surviving Elvis band member Scotty Moore and various locals who were there in person are all fascinating and informative. However, you never get to hear an interview at any decent length. Brief snippets are alternated with cheesy recreations of Elvis concerts, linked together by stiff narration. I would have preferred the approach taken by the recent music documentary Bob Dylan 1966 World Tour, in which interviews were presented uncut with the classic footage used as punctuation.
Speaking of those recreations, they are a candidate for a future episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 if that program were to be revived. The actors portraying Presley, Moore, and bandmate Bill Black may resemble the real-life figures, but that is the extent of realism. The performance footage doesn't match the vintage recordings, with the fake Presley gyrating in a fashion that would make Madonna blush with embarrassment.
Kultur, in association with subsidiary White Star, presents Elvis: The Birth of Rock n' Roll in its original full-frame format. The transfer is flawless, exceeding expectations for a made-for-television special of the time. Colors are nice and crisp. Grain is nonexistent, which is a pleasant surprise. There are absolutely no defects or imperfections seen at any point.
Audio is listed as "Hi-Fi Dolby" on the keep case. In fact, it is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The sound is acceptable, with a clear distinction between dialogue and music. The vintage recordings sound surprisingly clear, based on the little snippets one is allowed to hear without cloying narration and recollections interrupting them.
Elvis: The Birth of Rock n' Roll was issued on DVD for only one reason: to make money. If you want an insightful documentary that really delves deep into the Elvis phenomenon, rent either This Is Elvis or the original cut of Elvis: That's the Way It Is. If you want to learn more about how Elvis got his start, visit your local library and check out a good book instead. This documentary is the equivalent of PBS's Teletubbies or Boohbah: It looks pretty, but there isn't any depth.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Not Rated