Elvis is everywhere.
In the immortal words of the profound philosopher Mojo Nixon, Elvis Presley is indeed still The King. Presley was a pioneer who shaped the musical landscape for years after his debut and even in the newer generation who have followed in the wake of his tragic death in 1977. Many people are aware of Elvis' story, his addiction to stimulants and depressants, his association with the so-called "Memphis Mafia," his tour in the army when he was but a lad, his starring roles in various B-pictures, et cetera. Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers, as the title might suggest, is a heartfelt interview with Elvis' closest friend "Diamond" Joe Esposito that takes the audience on a whirlwind tour of life with Elvis from the army days up until the fateful day in Memphis when, in the words of Living Color, "The King died sitting on his throne." Featuring never-before-seen photos and rare video clips, Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers is now available on DVD.
Facts of the Case
"Diamond" Joe Esposito, now in his later years, reflects on his life and times with his best friend, Elvis Presley. The two met in the army and formed a kinship that would last over the next twenty years, and Esposito reminisces about the many lovely ladies in Presley's life, to the misunderstood relationship Elvis and Joe had with Colonel Tom Parker (Elvis' agent), up through the aftermath and the outpouring of grief at Presley's funeral. Joe shows up at a number of studio lots and former homes of The King and tells a side of the story that, mostly, has never really been heard before. Joe also opens up his own personal scrapbook and video collection for the audience to see.
I'll have to state up front that it's obvious that Esposito cared deeply for Elvis Presley; he breaks up when talking about Elvis' final day on Earth, and also refuses at any time to badmouth Presley or any of Presley's friends, lovers, and confidantes. This is true loyalty that you could only expect out of a lifelong friend, and it's genuinely touching. I've seen a few documentaries on the life and times of Elvis Presley, and I have to admit that he led a fascinating life. He could have shirked his duty to his country, but yet he put his burgeoning music career on hiatus to serve in the army when drafted. Themes of Presley's patriotism are frequently touched on throughout the documentary. Esposito seems to jump around in time a bit, but each chapter on the DVD essentially deals with a new theme, from the jumbo jet that Elvis purchased, to his relationship and marriage to Priscilla, to the birth of his daughter, and up through the declining years of Presley's career. This is a rare look at The King, and there were a few things I learned about this legendary performer.
Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers is presented in its original aspect ratio, which is a full frame presentation. The video isn't going to be the best you've ever seen, but all of the flesh tones and blacks are sufficiently displayed so the transfer isn't a disappointment, either. The sound is in a flat stereo presentation, but since we're only talking about an interview format, there really isn't a need for an eardrum-bursting DTS track. The "extra features," such as they are, are simply deleted scenes that deal with Elvis receiving a kiss from Don Ho from when he performed in Hawaii to "Elvis Buys a Chimp" (this may explain Lisa Marie's passing fancy for Michael Jackson), to Esposito's take on the myriad of Elvis impersonators who've descended upon Las Vegas like fruit flies on a rotten orange.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
To put things simply, I have a few bones to pick with Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers. Most of the problems can basically be summed up with the fact that the production value had to be almost nothing. Most of the action takes place on Esposito's sofa, but occasionally he ventures outside and stands in front of a house and says things like, "Elvis lived here for a few years and things here were great." Then Esposito stands in front of a movie studio lot and says things like, "Elvis filmed a few of his movies on this lot behind me, and this was great. We had great times here." Of course we never get to venture into any of these areas with Joe giving a guided tour. I'm not sure what the problem was, but this is essentially the equivalent of going on vacation to the Grand Canyon and only showing everyone a picture of you standing in front of the sign saying "Grand Canyon" at the park entrance.
And speaking of low production values, I find it necessary to point out that there is not one single, solitary note of Elvis' music included on this DVD. Instead we get some sort of horrid Muzak™ inspired back noise cacophony that never seems to fit. Even during film clips of Elvis performing on stage, the music and lyrics are muted out. I'm betting the royalty fees are kind of high for Presley's music, but this is still inexcusable if you're making a film about Elvis.
I understand and respect Esposito's unwillingness to talk about Presley's darker side, such as the drug addiction, but Presley undeniably had less than savory facets of his life. How did Presley's self-destructive behaviors effect his friendships? Instead of letting us know, Esposito simply glosses over or never mentions them. While these parts of Presley's life have been covered in other documentaries, the opportunity is missed here to either set some misconceptions straight or to delve in how tough it was for the people who cared for Elvis to deal with his problems.
And lastly we come to the following:
…"…and then in walked Priscilla, and she just looked great. She was a great girl and she was just great for Elvis. They were great together and the whole room just kind of looked at them and thought they looked great together. It was a great time for everyone."
Okay, I'm paraphrasing and exaggerating here a bit, but imagine that kind of dialogue for two hours. It's not great, it's grating. Joe is simply not the most colorful guy in the world. Let's just leave it at that.
Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers mostly contains material that can be found on other sources, but there are some unique tidbits offered up by Esposito that are only going to be found here. I would only recommend this DVD if you're an Elvis completist and just have to have it.
I'm going to allow Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers only on the merits of being able to see another side of Elvis' life and times. The world will have to wait a long time for Anti-Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Universal Music
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