This DVD is volume three in the Great Performances series which are now re-released on DVD. Volumes 1 and 2 were available on video before, volume 3 becomes available for the first time. This third volume is a strange release in this series since it wasn't part of the original series.
This documentary focuses on the raise to national fame. It was a well plotted ad campaign, which included a national record company, movie contract and as a highlight the appearances on the Ed Sullivan's nationwide television show.
The cover design is in the same style as volumes one and two. The 4 page booklet is not very special, but at least there is some information on it, something that is pretty rare with Elvis-releases on DVD.
The DVD itself starts with a language selection, which is done in a pretty stylish way. This goes also for the sound-setup (Dolby 5.1 or original stereo). The main menu gives you the choice between the complete documentary, the content (chapters) and a photo gallery.
This photo gallery is done better than the ones on the other volumes, no fancy artwork overlapping the images (too much), but the quality of the images is poor. It's a shame that bonus sections like these are added. They are sometimes better left off since they add nothing.
Elvis was filming 'Love Me Tender' in Hollywood when he first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. The show was presented by Charles Laughton since Ed Sullivan had just been in a car accident, missing the most watched edition of his show in television history. Over 50 million people watched Elvis appearance, 83 percent of the television audience.
Much of the content is well known, the TV appearances are used in many documentaries. The quality of the video and audio on this release is good. They used almost all portions of the show which have a link to Elvis. Painting a good picture of a fifties TV show. Besides the TV-footage it contains a lot of original live footage of Elvis in the early years of his career, some of it is pretty rare. We get to see Bo Diddley's appearance on the show, displaying the variety of music the Sullivan show had. There was even place for Elvis' music on his show, although Ed Sullivan had first claimed he wouldn't have Elvis in it. But he ended the last show "accusing Elvis of being a nice guy" and the good experiences he had with a big name. This was a great compliment for Elvis, and it helped him to become accepted by a wider public.
On his third appearance in the show he was filmed from the waist up. It turned out to be Elvis last appearance on television for many years to come. The Colonel priced Elvis out of the television market and the image of Elvis that could be created in film was more controllable (by the Colonel).
From a documentary with this title we'd expect more focus on the 'vulgar' Elvis, and the way his hip-shaking performance was experienced back then. Watching all three volumes of this series you see how Elvis developed over the first year of his career. He gained control over the studio audience and played with them.
This documentary stands out from the previous volumes in many ways. First of all the author, Peter Guralnick, who wrote the script for this documentary, did a great job. Also the quality of both the audio and the video are far better. The story is told by Bono, the front man of the Irish band U2, whose voice gets a bit annoying after a while.
If you don't have the volumes one and two you might want to start with this one since there is an overlap with the first two volumes. This documentary focuses on the Ed Sullivan Shows while on the other volumes all parts of Elvis musical career are shown.