Rock Docs III

film 2 of 4

Elvis: That’s the Way It Is

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 17, 2015

Observational cinema gets knocked for leaving out the context, or for not drawing the proper or needed conclusions. That can be and has been a problem. But observational cinema is also, properly, praised because the context and the likely consequences are often embedded in that carefully and dutifully assembled footage. It’s quite possible to see it, or intuit it, if we engage fully or properly. And when we do so the whole assembly can be so much more powerful than when a film leads its witness.

This one! On one level this is why the observational mode has so often been used to record performers, performing. Look at this outlandishly attractive, charismatic and talented performer. There’s a bit of preparation, then, mostly, we have this completely present-tense spectacle. Some spectacle, too! You can chuckle at the hysterical ladies, a little. But while chuckling you’ve got to keep your own hysteria in check. What better than direct cinema to record a force of nature? Elvis! Editorializing would be superfluous.

That’s because in addition to the outfits that are actually really cool, the nearly inconsequential compositions (“Polk Salad Annie”) that he completely manages to sell, the ridiculous mannerisms that are here revealed as lampoon-proof, this is great music! Some band (James Burton!  Ronnie Tutt!). Some singer! Eventually, I guess, there was a poor bloated caricature who died ignominiously. This assembly should only make us regret that it came to that. More importantly, iy should make us remember that the end is finally only a tiny part of that whole story. Actually, concentrate on this, or 1956, or the Elvis-in-Memphis material. It’s not the story at all.