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That's The Way It Is - As Seen By BBC

Mar 18, 2001
Since Elvis Presley's death in 1977, his image as a rock legend has been under attack from those who remember him as an overweight glutton.

A new cinema release sets out to answer his critics and bolster his status as the ultimate rock and roll icon.

Elvis -That's the Way It Is, is a revamped version of a 1970 concert documentary.

It shows Elvis the performer, singer and person at his potent and charismatic best.

Directed by Denis Sanders, the film follows Elvis from rehearsal to stage as he makes his triumphant return to live shows in Las Vegas.

Sanders made his film from the edited footage of just six shows in 1970, taken from Elvis's five years of two four-week seasons at the Las Vegas International Hotel.

But, explains Todd Slaughter - secretary of the UK's official Elvis Presley fan club - the six shows were more than enough.

"Elvis showed not only this Las Vegas audience but, through the movie, the whole world what an accomplished entertainer he had become. He is vital, handsome, funny and has a soft, supple voice with an amazing vocal range."

Sanders interspersed his original film with interviews with hotel staff and overwhelmed fans.

Thirty years on, the film has been reworked and improved. The asides with staff and fans have been cut out and 40% of unseen footage added.

The result is a film of Elvis the musician rather than Elvis the star.

Slaughter, who was among the fan contingent included in the original, wholly approves of the re-edit.

"Sanders chose to concentrate on the bizarre aspects of our gathering, which both devalued our people and showed Elvis enjoying the support of fans who were not quite 'the full quid'," he says.

"Happily, all the European and American fans have been edited out of the special edition. What is left is an astonishing film that looks as if it were made yesterday."

The film is split into three parts. The first shows Elvis practising with his instrumentalists.

It then moves on to his work with his backing groups, The Sweet Inspirations and The Imperials. The climatic final third section is devoted to the shows.

In each segment, the songs are representative of Elvis's mood and his diverse musical influences.

In rehearsal, Elvis switches from a heart-felt rendition of Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water to Get Back, from The Beatles. Later he bursts into his own spontaneous version of the Happy Yodler.

The concerts are the reserve of some of his greatest and most memorable hits including The Wonder Of You, Blue Suede Shoes, Love Me Tender, In The Ghetto and Suspicious Minds.

Despite Elvis's obvious awareness of the camera, the film is an intimate portrayal of a man who was hugely charming both on and off stage.

With his musicians he is relaxed and joking, child-like at times. In the showroom, he is an irrepressible force who drives his audience wild with a single movement.

But here too he shows the human touch, getting down into the crowd and walking among them, hugging and kissing fans.

Elvis gave more than 1,000 shows from the time he began performing again in 1969 until his death - but he never toured outside the United States.

Sanders's film was originally made for his fans around the world who had, and would never, see him perform live.

Slaughter, who met Elvis on three occasions, believes this new version of the film does Elvis justice and will show future generations why Elvis is known as the King.

"Nothing prepared me for meeting Elvis. He had this special aura. Yet, he was also very human. This film will act as a marvellous vehicle to show people who Elvis really was."

BBC Online (by Michael Thomson)

One of the most enjoyable, eccentric moments in "Honeymoon in Vegas" (where Nicolas Cage loses Sarah Jessica Parker to James Caan in a poker game) involves a group of skydiving Elvises, complete with chunky black sideburns. Hero-worship never looked so daft. Until, that is, you spot The Imperials, back-up vocalists for Elvis' Vegas season, who - with sideburns, quiffs and attitude - look like a dotty parody of the King himself.

This is only one of many amusing moments in this completely re-cut version of the 1970 documentary which tracks the build-up to the opening night of Elvis in Vegas and, naturally, captures the show itself. Gone are the intrusive fan interviews, the chats with hotel staff and the mono sound; instead we have a film which emphasises the performance, and it is beefed up by digitally-revamped image and sound. Moreover, 40 per cent of the picture (now 13 minutes shorter but containing four new songs) is composed of unused footage.

The trouble with this documentary is less to do with its assembly than its content. Allowing for the fact that it would have been a much richer experience had it cemented Elvis to his era and included interviews with the star and his band, Elvis himself by 1970 was a hot-and-cold experience: an intense, all-blitz version of "Heartbreak Hotel" shows Elvis fully in the moment, yet "Don't Be Cruel" becomes just another excuse to goon around, another snogging session (he strolls through the theatre, entertaining ladies in the audience). Don't forget, by 1970 Elvis was nine-parts showbiz, one part rock 'n' roll. Yet his voice and charisma were very much intact, and he was some years away from becoming the full-fat version we know from the final photographs. In this film he comes across as a kindly, concerned man, with his showing-off born of innocent fun, not egotism. I saw this in the company of a sizable chunk of the British Elvis fan-club who gasped at his every move, chuckled at his every aside. But for the rest of us, "Elvis: That's The Way It Is" is pleasant, not essential, and shows up the limitations of the rock documentary.
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