|Elvis on Tour: Long Live The King|
|Written by Will “the Thrill” Viharo|
Released theatrically in 1972 and finally making its long-delayed DVD and Blu-Ray debut Tuesday, August 3, the documentary Elvis on Tour was The King’s 33rd and final film – and sadly, it shows. Throughout this ambitious chronicle of a grueling 15 night/15 city tour (primarily of the Southeastern United States), Elvis appears shockingly pale and sweaty, his face bloated (though his physique is lean and looks great in an arresting array of his trademark bejeweled jumpsuits), his speech often slurred, and his unique singing voice, while still powerful, was not quite up to his own lofty standards, as redefined two years earlier in Elvis: That’s the Way It Is, which expertly documented his triumphant return to live performing in Las Vegas (and, contrary to the marketing hyperbole surrounding this DVD release, was at least equally revelatory and intimate with its subject). It’s even more depressing to realize his legendary 1968 “Comeback Special” on NBC, which captured him at the an all-time career high, in every aspect, including physical appearance and vocal prowess, was recorded only four years prior to this film, highlighting the stunning rapidity of his ultimate downfall. Two montages in the film itself (edited by a young Martin Scorsese, concurrently with work on his breakout classic Mean Streets, released the following year) showcasing Elvis in his ‘50s heyday, and then later in a series of ‘60s cinematic kisses with nubile co-stars, offer further jarring juxtaposition.
The beauty of this film, however, lies in the inarguable fact that Elvis, though compromised by self-medication, obvious exhaustion and the emotional wreckage of his recent divorce from Priscilla (who offers her own introduction to the sonically remastered DVD version), is still quite obviously The King. Hints of his ageless glory shine through in renditions of “Never Been to Spain,” “Burning Love,” “You Gave Me a Mountain,” “American Trilogy,” and “Polk Salad Annie,” sprinkled with throwaway (but crowd-pleasing) versions of his older hits like “Don’t Be Cruel,” “A Big Hunk O’ Love” and “Love Me Tender.” His signature farewell tune “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is delivered with touching gusto, and the famous announcer line, “Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building” resonates with melancholy irony.
Technically innovative, with the multi-angle 16mm footage inserted split-screen onto 35mm film, Elvis on Tour was also the only Elvis movie to ever win official recognition from the mainstream establishment, as Golden Globe winner for Best Documentary of 1972. Much of the credit is due to bold directors Robert Abel and Pierre Adidge, who also made the Joe Cocker doc Mad Dogs and Englishmen and the previous year, and the ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll reunion concert Let the Good Times Roll the following year. They managed to reveal a vulnerable, sensitive Elvis backstage, whether in his hotel suite singing beloved gospel music with the Memphis Mafia, JD Sumner and the Stamps, and the Sweet Inspirations, just to unwind; or in the limo and on the plane in between stadiums: reflective, playful and often seemingly isolated and alone despite the attendant media circus, the hordes of adoring fans and his ever-present entourage. This is a crucial time capsule that will appeal mainly to diehard fans, but probably won’t win over any new ones, since it inadvertently reinforces the egregious image of a drugged-out ‘70s Elvis. He did clean up nicely for his justly celebrated, globally broadcast Aloha From Hawaii TV concert the following year, but this was probably his last hurrah as a performer at the peak of his powers. Four years after Aloha, the posthumously broadcast TV special Elvis in Concert offered a tragic portrait of Elvis only a few weeks before he died on August 16, 1977. But even at the end, his voice was deep, rich and even operatic. It seems no celebrity in history has had his or her rise and fall so completely chronicled as Elvis Presley. Elvis on Tour may not boast him at the top of his game, but it does offer further evidence of his lasting mystique and ongoing influence as an irreplaceable icon of American music. More than anything, it shows the world that even The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was only human, making him that much more relatable, accessible – and worshipped.
Will "The Thrill" Viharo is a freelance writer, host of the film series “Forbidden Thrills” at Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge, and creator of the long running cult movie cabaret “Thrillville.” He lives in Alameda, CA with his wife Monica “Tiki Goddess” Cortes and their two cats. His pulp novels “A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge,” "Chumpy Walnut," and "Down a Dark Alley" are now available at http://stores.lulu.com/willviharo For more please surf over to www.thrillville.net