A Legendary Performer

The restored version of a classic concert film and a new road show recall Elvis in all his glory

Few -- save Albert Goldman -- have had much unkind to say about Elvis. Whatever shadows reached out for him were private ones. He wanted to be liked and he was. Everyone from film critic Andrew Sarris to Dennis Hopper has suggested that Presley might have eventually become a great actor, but as any actor can tell you, to be any good at it you have to be willing to be unlikable. The closest Presley came was as Vince Everett in Jailhouse Rock -- and there are many who believe that Presley and the arrogant Everett were not so far apart at the time, but the truth as we know it is that Elvis never let himself get mean.

There's an episode of The New Twilight Zone from 1986, "The Once and Future King," about a Las Vegas-based Elvis impersonator who goes back in time and becomes Elvis. In the program, the impersonator claims, "Vegas is what killed Elvis." But the truth is, Vegas could have saved Elvis. All he needed was his own hillbilly Rat Pack. Johnny Cash could have taught him how to manage his habits, Jerry Lee could have taught him a few things about megalomania, the Burgess brothers might have hung around to kick his ass when he needed it -- maybe Ricky Nelson could have helped Elvis negotiate his way around Hollywood, get him a part in a Howard Hawks picture. The speculations are endless.

What Schmidlin's movie does is help us see Elvis at the crossroads, fit and at the same time fixin' to die. And for those who love Elvis, his music, his performances, his looks, this is about as good as it gets.

King at the crossroads: Presley in a scene from the newly reconstructed Elvis: That's the Way It Is.
King at the crossroads: Presley in a scene from the newly reconstructed Elvis: That's the Way It Is.


Scheduled to air on Turner Classic Movies on Saturday, January 27, at 11 a.m. "Elvis: The Concert" will be performed at Phoenix Symphony Hall on Monday, January 29. Showtime is 7p.m.

Elvis would have been 66 this month. Had he lived, maybe Quentin Tarantino or Paul Michael Anderson would be talking him into a great part, something for Presley to sink his teeth into. Maybe Steven Soderbergh would have thrown him into his upcoming remake of Ocean's 11. Maybe he would've been doing the occasional show, going into or coming out of retirement with pay-per-view specials like Barbra Streisand. All of that is, of course, conjecture. What we have for sure is an insightfully reconstructed documentary and the upcoming Valley performance of "Elvis: The Concert," featuring many of the musicians in the documentary, playing behind filmed footage of the King.

Former President Jimmy Carter came pretty close to profundity when he said, "Elvis Presley was a symbol of the country's vitality, rebelliousness and good humor." It's as good an assessment as any offered, but beyond that, the mystery of Elvis remains intact and unfathomable.

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