Judge Brett Cullum brushes up those old Blue Suede shoes for this fitting tribute to The King.
Elvis Presley: If the songs don't go over, we can do a medley of costumes.
I lived in Memphis over ten years, and my family is originally from the river city that spawned one of rock's greatest legends. I've seen firsthand the roots of Elvis from his two room shack in Tupelo where he grew up to the staggering excess of Graceland. It's hard not to get excited about the idea of rereleasing a two disc set of the King of Rock and Roll performing live. Elvis: That's the Way It Is (Two-Disc Special Edition) is one of the first planned deluxe double dips for most of the Elvis film catalogue this year. It's an interesting choice, because it's a movie about Elvis giving up on movies and returning to his performance roots in Las Vegas circa 1970. Fascinating that Warner Brothers would choose this title to go along with dual disc reissues of Viva Las Vegas, Jailhouse Rock, and the other projects that kept Presley in Hollywood and away from stages throughout the '60s. Even though it's not the most well known title, for Elvis fans this is a chance to see him doing what he does best. The music is incredible, the moments captured are funny and touching, and Elvis—That's The Way It Is chronicles a legendary period when the man was cool, confident, and at the peak of his game. This is before he began gaining weight, using too many drugs, and imploding on his own fame and flailing career.
The film doesn't do much other than let you observe as Elvis records and rehearses with his band in the studio and on the stage as he prepares for his third year performing in Las Vegas. Frankly that's enough to make for a fascinating journey. He's tan, looks amazing, and is relaxed as he plays around with everybody. It's a hoot to see him backed up by a group of male singers called the Imperials who look like impersonators set to take over his throne long before that became fashionable, and of course there are the Sweet Inspirations made of female gospel singers including the mother of Whitney Houston. The huge band is tight led by guitarist James Burton and drummer Ronnie Tutt. The second half of the film takes the best of six performances, and splices them together to make an incredible sample of what the live shows looked and sounded like. During this period Elvis delivered his high energy show twice a night seven days a week. The man loved doing the concerts, and his passion bleeds through the audience which eats up every second. He does a ton of covers like "Get Back," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and "You've Lost That Loving Feeling." He does his own hits, and puts in the country twinged singles he was working on for his original work. Songs like "Tiger Man," "Patch it Up," and "Just Pretend" weren't chart toppers, but it's nice to see them performed three decades later as a testament to his late career that we seldom get to enjoy.
Elvis: That's the Way It Is had two releases: one theatrically in 1970, and the other in 2001 which replaced forty minutes of fan footage with more performances and musical insights. The 2001 version was remastered, cleaned up, and released previously on DVD. It has a stunning clear transfer and crisp full surround that really delivers the goods for your home stereo. The theatrical version has not been on the format before, and here it resurfaces as a second bonus disc. You can see and hear the difference between the two, and some will gripe the tender loving care given to the new version should have been extended to the theatrical release. It's presented mono with a lot of flaws that were touched up for the 2001 alternate cut. It looks messy, and really should be seen as merely a way to see the excised footage of the fans rather than a second full length feature. The 2001 new version runs a tight ninety-six minutes, while the theatrical version is one hundred and eight minutes. The main difference is the original 1970 cut shows the fans at great length, and includes interviews with them. These are funny and sad portraits of people who are obsessed. It's important to have both preserved because they offer a couple of different musical performances, and chronicle the fan involvement of that period. Included on the DVD are some special features such as a look at the restoration, some outtakes, and a lot of text features that add some historical perspective. All in all this is a nice complete package that is worth the double dip, or serves as the best option for an original purchase.
Elvis: That's the Way It Is was released the same year the Beatles unleashed the documentary Let it Be. It was also around this time we got the Woodstock footage. While I can't say this film has the same social impact the Beatles and Woodstock provided, it does hold up as an entertaining record of why Elvis is worshipped as much as he still is. His fashion sense was a little crazy, he may have been in a slump on the charts, but the 1970 Elvis could still prove onstage why he was the King of Rock. He swaggers, sneers, and laughs his way through numbers with an unbridled passion few performers could ever hope to recreate. There's something sexy and charismatic about his relaxed nature in the Vegas years where he could do his thing twice a night every day of the week. You can forget all the second rate films that cashed in on his celebrity, Elvis: That's the Way It Is is the only movie you need to understand the whole mania. Take it from a Memphis boy, Elvis is still the King. And this release proves it.
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