'Elvis Presley: The Searcher'
Australian DVD Release
Review by Piers Beagley
For fans of Elvis’ music there is no doubt that the HBO documentary “Elvis Presley The Searcher” was one of the best programmes ever made about Elvis and where his inspiration and music came from.
While keen fans can of course easily find faults - ie the lack of 70’s material, the sway of EPE’s involvement etc – overall it was a well-crafted documentary by a director who understands not only the importance of Elvis but also music itself.
As Nigel Patterson noted in our detailed EIN review
.. A real strength of the film are the narrative comments which background the visual canvas of the film and are predominately thoughtful and illuminating. The observations often come from those who knew or were influenced by Elvis and include Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and celebrated rock writer, Nik Cohn.
The weakest of the observations are by the film’s Executive Producers (Priscilla Presley, Jerry Schilling), not because they lack validity, but because they are driven by EPE’s strategic direction for how the “Elvis story” is told and belie the fuller and richer experience that was his life and music.
Overall there is a real strength to the interviews and how lucky we were to get Tom Petty and Red West’s input so soon before their untimely demise.
I was therefore pleased to know that the documentary would be released on DVD. The vision quality is excellent and it is a joy to slow-mo through some of the newly found clips and historical footage of Elvis.
In Australia the DVD was released as “Elvis Presley - The Searcher (Collector's Edition)’ including a 20-page booklet of “Rare” photos (but nothing else) for AU$25.
The Australian ‘Elvis Presley - The Searcher’ (standard Edition) sells for around AU$17.
Both feature the “DVD EXTRA” of a 40 minute interview with filmed at the Grammy Museum. This is a “Question & Answer” session about the making of the DVD. It does NOT feature any extra footage of Elvis.
As we noted, despite its weaknesses, Elvis Presley: The Searcher is a powerful, engrossing and enjoyable film, ranking as one of the two best documentary films ever made about Elvis. It resonates with thoughtful analysis and sublime archival material in its first part and while structurally and narratively weaker in its second part, nevertheless holds the viewer’s interest from beginning to end.
There is some marvellous home-video footage to enjoy.
However every keen Elvis collector will have wanted more from a truly deep investigation into Elvis’ musical creativity and the lack of any real examination into Elvis’ later spiritual “search” and his music after 1973 was a real mistake.
Having said that I understand the limitation that producing a programme for the ‘General Public’ entails and the programme was already over 3 hours long.
This is where the DVD EXTRAS should have come in. At the very least ALL the rare Elvis videos bought or licensed for the HBO documentary should have been included in full in the extras. There were plenty of mouth-watering mini clips of Elvis live on stage in the seventies that would have been great to see in full.
But why wasn't all the newly found home-video footage shown in full as a DVD extra?
Similarly if HBO / EPE wanted to avoid exposing the general viewer to a closer look at Elvis post 1973 an extended chapter for the real fans could also have been included as a DVD extra.
Billy Smith / Larry Geller / Red West / Linda Thompson could all have contributed some wonderful insights into Elvis’ last years and his final search for emotional release. The feeling is that there could have been, SHOULD have been, so much more.
DVD Verdict: When I bought this DVD I knew what I was buying, I was aware that it was only going to be the original HBO programme – plus the extra probably superfluous interview.
As a lover of Elvis’ MUSIC (over his jumpsuits, fluffy movies etc) I am more than happy to own this HBO documentary as it was originally broadcast. I will be watching it again and here it is complete without any commercial breaks. For AU$17 as a “Standard Edition” this was fine value-for-money for me.
The extra “20 page booklet” supplied with the more expensive “Collector’s Edition” is a very flimsy affair with very few “rare” photos and no text. The booklet follows the journey of the DVD however the last photos of Elvis featured in the booklet are from the ’68 Comeback Special’. Personally I felt the booklet a waste of paper and certainly not worth the extra $7 you have to layout.
DVD Extras: The ONLY DVD Extra is the 40 minute Grammy interview with Thom Zimny, Priscilla Presley and Jerry Schilling. It is a ‘Question & Answer’ about the making of the documentary rather than anything more about Elvis. There is NO Elvis footage used in it at all. Sadly it tells you no more about Elvis’ musical search.
Priscilla again explains that, “Elvis was just a commodity to RCA and his management” (How odd that she says this now in 2018 rather than back in 1977!) She states that the documentary helps show Elvis as “the true artist he was. Elvis was so much deeper than his movies”.
Interestingly she does reveal that it was the death of Joe Esposito that triggered the idea of the documentary as EPE realised they need to do it before everyone who knew Elvis died and before “Fake News” takes over in the Elvis story.
Jerry Schilling takes a long time – boy does he talk slow – discussing Elvis wanting to break away from Col Parker in 1974 but not much more.
Annoyingly the Grammy interviewer Scott Goldman states that 1981’s ‘This Is Elvis’ was the one documentary made about Elvis during his lifetime – and stupidly no one corrects him!
The most interesting discussion is actually by director Thom Zimny talking about how he put the documentary together and the editing process.
Afterwards there are questions from the audience but sadly nothing of depth. In general it’s a fluffy promo piece which is interesting in its way about how the documentary came to be but certainly tells you nothing new about Elvis. Once again you get the feeling that Priscilla and Jerry Schilling really have nothing interesting to say that hasn’t been passed by the EPE marketing team rules.
Other DVD stuff- The DVD Menu is extremely basic and not worth mentioning while the audio is formatted for “5.1 audio” option but only some of the music is actually stereo and the rest mono.
DVD Extras Verdict: SO disappointing, a fluffy promo piece and NO extra ELVIS at all. One of the biggest Elvis marketing failures in years. With nothing extra for the keen Elvis fans, I hope that EPE and Thom Zimny are taken to task about this. All those rare clips, extra interviews it would have been so so easy and cost so little to put together. A disgrace.
This is where EIN contributor Dennis Laverty's 'Elvis: The Searcher - Additional Stories' documentary made by an Elvis fan for Elvis fans puts EPE to shame. - SEE BELOW -
Overall DVD Verdict: For $17 I am more than happy to have this fine documentary added to my Elvis library. I will be watching it again, checking out more of the historical sections and enjoying it without any commercial breaks. I hope that some fans also feel the same. With regard to the overall DVD package I have written to both EPE and HBO expressing my disappointment in the lack of extras and how poorly they treat their loyal fan-base. This could have been a real winner and generated real interest with “unseen” footage and a good marketing campaign. What a shame.
Comment on this review - and - Have Your Say
SONY / HBO DVD Review by Piers Beagley.
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|'Elvis: The Searcher - Additional Stories' Spotlight: Like all too many serious Elvis fans Dennis Laverty felt let-down by the lack of seventies content in the HBO 'Elvis The Searcher' documentary. Luckily for us he has produced a lovely documentary "Elvis Presley: The Searcher - Additional Stories Not in the Original Film" that anyone can view on Vimeo.
He writes, "I really enjoyed The Searcher documentary, but after watching I wished they would have made it 4 hours. The 1950's skipped what pushed Elvis over-the-top when he appeared on TV, two of his best films and soundtracks (Loving You & Jailhouse Rock), and the backlash he took with his rock and roll Christmas Album. The 1960s unfortunately glossed over American Sound, especially Elvis taking a risk with 'In The Ghetto'.
|The 1970s disappointed when nothing was discussed about Elvis' only concept album (Elvis Country), nor 'He Touched Me' (they could have included unreleased Elvis on Tour footage of gospel segment) and finally with David Porter one of the Execs of the film from Stax Records that nothing was discussed about Elvis' returning to Memphis and STAX to record three key albums.
My goal was just to highlight those stories in some way.
Obviously I don't have access to the Elvis archives at Graceland, but I hope you enjoy.
The following are 10 segments that I thought could have fit into the film."
... EIN totally agrees and thoroughly recommends this 37 minute video.
This is the type of material that should have been in the DVD Extras
CLICK HERE to VIMEO to watch
EIN thanks Dennis Laverty for his input.
(Spotlight, Source;Dennis Laverty/ElvisInfoNet)
Elvis Presley: The Searcher (HBO film review): EIN's Nigel Patterson takes an in-depth look at Thom Zimny's documentary film about Elvis and his music.
What Nigel finds will surprise many fans. Discover what's The Good and The Bad about this new documentary looking at Elvis' music.
Is the film a masterpiece (the definitive Elvis documentary), over-rated or somewhere in the middle?
Read Nigel's review here
(Film Review, Source: ElvisInformationNetwork)
|EIN review ‘Elvis: The Searcher’ Deluxe CD boxset:
If your main interest in Elvis is his music then HBO’s ‘Elvis: The Searcher’
will probably become your favourite documentary ever produced about our hero.
The companion 3-CD deluxe edition box set offers an expanded 55-track overview of Elvis’ career as heard in the film including familiar hit recordings, powerful vocal performances and rare outtakes plus a bonus disc of additional recordings relevant to the film - including several early singles that inspired Elvis.
Thom Zimny said, "To live with the music of The Searcher over a period of years was more than a privilege. It changed my thinking about the emotional life of songs, both for those who make them and those who listen to them."