Blu-Ray Review: ‘Elvis on Tour’ Preserves Late Triumph For the King

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CHICAGO – Elvis may have left the building, but his work remains viscerally alive in this breezily enjoyable concert documentary. It was filmed during a 15-city tour in April of 1972, and captures the King of Rock at a triumphant peak late in his career, one year before his infamous “Aloha from Hawaii” concert (the first globally broadcast via satellite) and five years before his death.

Sometimes it’s difficult to remember just how gifted Elvis Presley was, since the popularity of his image has far outstretched that of his talent. He’s become an icon in the John Wayne mold, beloved more for what he represented rather than what he accomplished. His persona has been channelled and satirized by countless actors (most memorably, Nicolas Cage and Val Kilmer), and his voice is remembered more for its distinctive timber than its fiery energy. Blu-Ray Rating: 3.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 3.5/5.0

Yet “Elvis on Tour” portrays the larger-than-life man in refreshingly human terms. At this point in his career, he was beginning to look like an Elvis impersonator, with his helmet-like hairdo (stolen by Blagojevich) and double chin. Filmmakers Pierre Adidge and Robert Abel observe Presley’s behavior as he experiences pre-performance jitters, basks in the rhythm of a rehearsal, and sits exhausted in the back of a limo after fleeing from rabid fans. There’s an air of self-deprecation in his performances that is utterly delightful. At one point, he halts a song just so he can draw the audience’s attention to his elaborate blue jumpsuit, which includes a belt buckle carrying the image of an owl. He seems to delight in deflating the pomposity of his wardrobe, and his amusement is as infectious as his music. Yet his adoring fans still worship him as if he was the King of Kings. It’s startling to see Presley plant kisses on women who run toward the stage, luckily not bearing firearms. After one lip-lock, Presley’s microphone gets caught in his necklace, a fact he surveys with comic befuddlement.

Elvis on Tour was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Aug. 3, 2010.
Elvis on Tour was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Aug. 3, 2010.
Photo credit: Warner Home Video

The film juxtaposes behind-the-scenes footage and montages (supervised by a young Martin Scorsese) with performances in Virginia, North Carolina and Texas. Editor Ken Zemke utilizes the same split-screen technique so famously witnessed in the classic 1970 documentary, “Woodstock.” Three separate shots are often viewed simultaneously, each of them closing in on details of the onstage performance, from the backup singers and instruments to Presley himself. This technique may initially seem visually chaotic, but it does succeed in making the viewer feel surrounded by the performance, immersed in the electric chemistry between the King and his collaborators. The multiple images also enable Zemke to cut to the rhythm of the music, without cutting away from his star’s physicality, which is a show in and of itself. It’s only fitting that Presley’s 33rd and final film appearance would include clips from his past work, including his first two appearances on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” in which the excitement is still as palpable as ever.

The showstoppers on this disc are numerous: “Burning Love,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Never Been to Spain,” “See See Rider,” “Suspicious Minds,” “An American Trilogy,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Love Me Tender,” to name a few. He’s well accompanied by background vocalists Kathy Westmoreland, the Sweet Inspirations and J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet, who are allowed a soulful solo number, which Presley (ever the gospel-enthusiast) observes with meditative reverence, before diving into a rousing rendition of “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.” I’m personally not an Elvis devotee or even much of a fan, which made me doubly surprised to find myself tapping my toes during the entirety of this picture. Rarely has 93 minutes flown by so effortlessly.

“Elvis on Tour” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 1.77:1 aspect ratio), which brings a vibrant immediacy to the grainy images, much like the recent high definition transfer of “Soul Power.” Yet the disc’s utter lack of special features is a resounding disappointment. A retrospective documentary or commentary track would’ve been a fitting accompaniment to this stellar footage. Instead, the glossy box includes a booklet (stuffed with photos and trivia) that’s awkwardly fused to the box itself. To paraphrase the King, “That ain’t nothin’ but a rip-off!”

‘Elvis on Tour’ is released by Warner Home Video and stars Elvis Presley. It was written and directed by Pierre Adidge and Robert Abel. It was released on Aug. 3rd, 2010. It is not rated. staff writer Matt Fagerholm

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