"The Definitive Elvis": A Fascinating if flawed Documentary.
This 16 part series promises to be "all-encompassing, in-depth and ground breaking" which is a big challenge to live up to.
With those promises in mind I was prepared to be a little disappointed but after watching this thoroughly enjoyable journey through Elvis' life, I can thoroughly recommend this set.
Passport International Productions presents the ultimate treasure trove for Elvis fans!
Released for the 25th anniversary of Elvis' untimely passing...a exclusive 16 hour series available for the first time anywhere!
Features Never Before Seen footage of Elvis and Exclusive interviews with Elvis' friends, family, co-workers, leading ladies and fans!
Joe Esposito and Don Wilson are consultants on a superb presentation never to be duplicated.
This dynamite collection features interviews with: Elvis' Memphis Mafia, Ann-Margret, Eddy Arnold, Rona Barrett, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, James Darren, Mac Davis, Jackie DeShannon, Glen Glenn, Patti Page, Sam Phillips, Ray Manzarek, Wink & Sandy Martindale, Bill Medley, Shelia Ryan Caan, Roy Orbison, Kenny Rogers, Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson, Linda Thompson and Anita Wood.
For the first time ever an Exclusive Interview with Connie Stevens about her relationship with Elvis!
Let's be honest from the start, - No, it is not 'The Definitive Elvis' but at less than $80 it really is fantastic value for money.
Described as a "Collectors edition - for every Elvis fan" it must presume that we already own the films and the documentaries because it does have its flaws and is a major disappointment in one area - 'Not enough Elvis'!
This is NOT an EPE production and it seems that the producers have been licensed to use a maximum of 30 seconds of Elvis footage at any one time. Songs and films are heavily discussed but at no point do we get more than a short clip of Elvis singing, which is positively frustrating. A case in point would be where the 'Comeback Special' or 'Aloha' is talked about in detail yet we never get a complete clip from either show!
The importance of "If I Can Dream" is paramount to chapter 11 'The Comeback' yet, where it seems obvious that the programme has to end with Elvis' dynamic performance of the song, we only get a 15 second clip. The bonus however is that we do get some nice amateur footage of Elvis on stage, some rare photos, as well as some fun home movies.
This was made to be a sixteen part TV series - and indeed it is already showing in the US & Europe - and would work better as a weekly show rather than as back to back DVD viewing. This is definitely made for us Elvis fans where each episode can be followed by the film or performance that is being discussed.
I felt that the general public would be better served by documentaries like the official 'The Great Performances', 'The Man and His Music' etc. For better appreciation you really need to follow thier chapter 2 'Television Years' by watching the 'Elvis '56' documentary.
Similarly 'The Vegas Years' desperately needs to be followed by a viewing of 'That's The Way It Is'. 'The Hollywood Years' uses great clips from most of his movies but where a definitive performance like the 'Jailhouse Rock' number is discussed in depth, we are never allowed to appreciate it in its entirety which left me feeling frustrated and reaching for my own copy of the film.
However, approached in the right way, this DVD series is a thoroughly captivating investigation and is full of fascinating interviews. Tackling almost every aspect of Elvis' life in its 16 episodes it is hard to give an overall view.
Episode 1 'The Memphis Years' starts fabulously with lovely old footage of the Southern States perfectly setting the era. There are great photos of Elvis that I have never seen before and the programme correctly acknowledges the importance of Sun Studios pre-Elvis, with the first Rock n' Roll record 'Rocket 88' being recorded there in 1951. Dewey Phillips is acknowledged along with the significance of Beale Street & Memphis itself, as well as mentioning the 'first all black' radio station, WDIA. This was an important melting pot of musical styles that Elvis absorbed to create the sound that would change the world.
Over 200 exclusive interviews were carried out for this project and it is a highlight hearing the great reminisces of friends like George Klein, along with girlfriends (Dixie Locke, Anita Wood, Connie Stevens etc), co-stars and even Eddy Arnold (who The Col managed before Elvis)! There is too much to go into in full detail but I found some episodes were excellent while others were a little inadequate.
An episode like 'The Television Years' disappoints in the lack of actual Elvis footage used. - Just as Elvis starts singing the fabulous 'Love Me' on the Ed Sullivan Show it is faded out and incredibly both the '68 Comeback Special' and 'Aloha' are wrapped up in the last 2 minutes of the show, while the 1977 'In Concert' isn't even mentioned! This episode really should have been called 'The Early TV Years'.
Similarly the 'Elvis and Priscilla' chapter is frustrating since it doesn't feature Priscilla herself at all! The Executive Consultant is Joe Esposito which gives the series its 'flavour' - 'Diamond' Joe always seems to be too keen to say what you want to hear whereas I've always appreciated someone like Red West's down to earth honesty. Not suprisingly, knowing the relationship between them, Red West is not featured here at all.
Having an episode on 'The Memphis Mafia' without any interview with Red is as strange as having Priscilla missing from the programme about Elvis and her. But I don't want to be too negative as there are enough brilliant and illuminating new interviews that fully compensate for the lack of the few important figures. Charlie Hodge has some good anecdotes, as do Sonny West and the charming George Klein who was there from the very start.
Other interviews that may surprise you are Vicky Tiu (the young child in 'World's Fair'), Elvis' double & friend Lance LeGault (Did Elvis really get pushed off that diving board in Viva Las Vegas?!), and a fascinating array of co-stars. Teri Garr, Celeste Yarnall (A Little Less Conversation - see our EIN recent interview too), Juliet Prowse etc tell us about what fun it was to work with Elvis. A nice change was also hearing how Stella Stevens (Girls,G, G) found it so unpleasant working with him
! I particularly enjoyed the new interviews with people like Mac Davis writer of 'In The Ghetto' & 'A Little Less Conversation' (written for Aretha Franklin!). Bill Medley (of the Righteous Brothers) also tells some great stories along with Steve Binder (producer of the Comeback Special), Hal Kanter (director of 'Loving You'), Linda Thompson and too many others to mention.
Bill Medley, of course, sang the Righteous Brothers definitive 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling' and was a friend of Elvis'. How dynamic would it have been to have heard him and Elvis duet on the song?
An episode like 'A Man and His Music' will disappoint in the fact that it doesn't ever play the songs in their entirety. The importance of 'An American Trilogy' is discussed as well as 'My Way' but we only get to see a few seconds of each song. This is where the astounding (and EPE licensed) documentary "He Touched Me - The gospel music of Elvis Presley" really shines in comparison.
But chapters like 'The Spiritual Soul of Elvis' and 'Elvis and The Colonel' (where music clips of Elvis aren't so important) definitely compensate. The 'Spiritual Soul' is a good look at all sides of Elvis' mystical fascination and will probably enlighten a lot of fans who might know nothing of his flirtation with The Teachings of Yogananda or his interest in other esoteric religions.
'Elvis and The Colonel' is a fascinating look at the Carny Hustler who made Elvis "The World's Greatest Star" while at the same time walking away with far more earnings than the Star himself! Lots of people comment on what a dislikeable & manipulative man he was at times, while it is fascinating to hear his (last) wife Loanne talk about the gentler side of him. A great programme but again I really missed hearing Red West's comments to compensate for Diamond Joe's opinion that just seems to be far too nice. Joe was no doubt in the pay of both The Col and Elvis at the same time! (Priscilla describes him as The Col's 'spy' in her book).
'The Day The Music Died' tackles the sad ending, talking about Elvis' health problems as well as featuring fascinating 1977 interview footage with Joe Esposito along with the awful side of Sonny West & Dave Hebler promoting their dreadful book. This episode is very sad in its honesty. It features Elvis' dreadful, drugged, ramblings from 'The Desert Storm' concert and girlfriend Sheila Ryan is frighteningly honest in saying that they were all playing the game "Let's pretend that Elvis isn't dying". Really sad and shameful stuff. This was a man with symptoms of manic depression, that had become obvious from 1972 onwards, yet no one could do anything to help - "A lot of people cared but were afraid to help him."
It's true that you can't help a man that won't help himself and Joe is honest in saying that Red West did try telling Elvis that "He had to clean up his act" and earnt a torrent of abuse in doing it. We will always wonder whether they could have done more. It is also a little odd when Joe talks of the shame of Elvis' cousin taking the last photo of him lying in the coffin and then, bizarrely, proceeds to show us.
Another major gripe of mine is that the introductory image to each chapter, which is of Elvis stepping through a door, is obviously an impersonator! Surely there are a thousand Elvis images that would have been better suited? Similarly, and this is hard to fathom, the very final image of the series (admittedly it is in the final chapter about his fans) is also not of Elvis himself!
Overall Verdict: But overall, the quality of the clips are excellent DVD viewing which is really refreshing and I couldn't help myself but had to sit down and watch the first 5 hours in one sitting! It can't be "The Definitive Elvis" but it is a great companion to all those concerts, films and documentaries that you already own and is a thoroughly entertaining 16 hours! And, best of all, great value for money.
Interview & Articles by Piers Beagley
-Copyright EIN, 2002
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DVD Chapter - Two Episodes of 50 minutes per disc.
Episode One: The Memphis Years
Episode Two: The Television Years
Episode Three: The Hollywood Years, Part I (1956-1961)
Episode Four: The Hollywood Years, Part II (1962-1969)
Episode Five: The Army Years
Episode Six: The Memphis Mafia
Episode Seven: Elvis and Priscilla
Episode Eight: Elvis and the Colonel
Episode Nine: The Many Loves of Elvis (see Disc 5 scan below)
Episode Ten: The Intimate Loves of Elvis (see Disc 5 scan below)
Episode Eleven: The Comeback
Episode Twelve: The Vegas Years
Episode Thirteen: A Man and His Music
Episode Fourteen: The Spiritual Soul of Elvis
Episode Fifteen: The Day the Music Died - Elvis Is Gone
Episode Sixteen: All the King's Disciples - The Fans
Other relevant EIN articles
Go here EIN's in-depth Larry Geller interview
Click here for Charlie Hodge Interview & special EIN Tribute
Go here for Interviews with Memphis Mafia members, Marty lacker, Lamar Fike & Elvis' cousin Billy Smith.
Celeste Yarnall: The woman who kissed by Elvis during "that song" in Live A Little, Love A Little, talks to EIN
Rex & Elizabeth Mansfield Talk About Their Good Friend, Elvis Presley: They met Elvis in Germany and became good friends with him. Now married, they share their remembrances of that exciting time.
EIN talks to members of the Memphis Mafia: In this composite interview we have pieced together interesting questions and answers from our interviews with George Klein, Charlie Hodge, Joe Esposito and Jerry Schilling.
"The King, the Mirror, Spiritualism and the Love Machine": Actress and international model, Barbara Leigh talks to EIN about her famous lovers including Elvis and Steve McQueen
EIN review of the FTD book 'Writing For The King' by Ken Sharp
Ken Sharp's fascinating interview with Ernst Jorgensen.
In-depth article on 'In The Ghetto' the 40th Anniversary.
'IN PERSON’ at The International Hotel' FTD CD review:
The '68 Special - 40th Anniversary Celebration - By Paul & Joan Gansky
'From Elvis To Garth' Bobby Wood & The Memphis Boys 1969
The Night Elvis Reclaimed His Crown 1968
EIN review of the JAT Steve Binder book '68 at 40'
Spotlight: The Dark Side of Colonel Parker
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