Saturday, 8 August 2009
Elvis Week, Memphis' annual celebration of its favourite son, begins today. I thought I'd also dedicate August to the King so welcome to Carnival Saloon's inaugural Elvis Month.
To anyone who only associates Elvis Presley in the 70s with a hopped-up bloater bursting out of his sequinned jumpsuit I always recommend the superb concert film That's The Way It Is. For pure entertainment I challenge anyone not to enjoy it. It captures Elvis in one of his earliest Las Vegas residencies at a time when he still had a 32" waist.
The performance is fresh and energetic and Presley's voice sounds great. He's hilarious on stage too - joking with the band, messing about with his early hits and treating many of the beehived women in the audience to some very public displays of affection. The film's behind-the-scenes sequences are also a treat, my favourite being the sight of Elvis on a tandem bike.
After dozens of lousy films that made Elvis an even bigger star the Vegas years cemented his reputation not as a rock'n'roller but as America's greatest mainstream entertainer. The audience are an interesting part of That's The Way It Is. The men look like accountants, many of their wives resemble air-hostesses. This is not a crowd you can imagine at Fillmore West.
In the 50s Elvis' gyrating hips genuinely shocked middle America. There's an argument that Colonel Tom Parker orchestrated Elvis' stint in the army to guarantee middle America's acceptance of his star. He hoped 15 months military service would erase the memory of pelvic thrusts and fainting teenage girls.
That's The Way It Is was released again in 2001 as a re-edited 'special edition'. Whereas the 1970 original is inter-cut with peculiar interviews and what now looks like outmoded period detail the new version wisely keeps its focus on the concert.
Colonel Parker will be smiling from the grave. Before the film's release he sent a three-page memo to MGM head Jim Aubrey advising all interviews be "thoroughly checked [so that] it doesn't become monotonous and take away from the performance". The Colonel was equally unhappy about the depiction of Vegas as a Gomorrah of excess: "There is no reason to show an abundance of steaks in a truck... when perhaps in Dalton, Georgia, where the picture may be showing, a family saved up money to see the picture and relinquished their hamburger for that night so that they could see Elvis." (Quotes from Peter Guralnick's brilliant book Careless Love).
The DVD I have includes both versions and I'd suggest watching the 'new' one before the original. There's also a wonderful three-CD set that includes previously unreleased concert and rehearsal tracks. Here are two tracks.
MP3: Elvis Presley - Polk Salad Annie (concert)
MP3: Elvis Presley - Little Sister/Get Back (rehearsal)
Buy: 7digital | Amazon
Carnival Saloon's Elvis Month
Song-Poem Tributes to the King - amateur songwriting oddities
The Burger & the King - interview with director James Marsh
Presley/Nixon - Elvis meets the President
Purchase Presley at Amazon