Today, it's pretty much only sixteen-year-old Justin Beiber who can get the fairer sex screaming and crying in awe in sold-out coliseum shows. But in 1972, only a thirty-seven-year-old man in a bell-bottomed jumpsuit could do the same. And they called him "the King." A lot has changed on the entertainment landscape, and one wonders what today's teeny-boppers might think of Elvis' act. The unironic invocations of God and the American way haven't gone out of style with musical idols (not even Elvis' unabashed affection for his native South). But Elvis consummate showmanship looks quite a bit cornier in the rear-view mirror, with all those Elvis impersonators in the intervening years. Whatever one may think, 1972's Elvis on Tour is evidence of a huge pop idol and savvy showman with a finely tuned stage act.
Just two years after the smash success of Woodstock, Elvis on Tour wasn't going to fix what wasn't broken, so producer-directors Pierre Adidge and Robert Abel employ a split-screen format for most of their concert and road footage. The film documents a fifteen-city tour by including performance footage from dates in Virginia, North Carolina and Texas, and various other material taken on the road: Elvis arriving at the airport, meeting (and escaping) fans, accepting the key to a city, singing to fill his off hours. Adidge and Abel incorporate a handful of audio interview clips of Elvis, Ed Sullivan Show footage of the King singing "Ready Teddy," and montages, supervised by a young Martin Scorsese, of various stops on the tour and Elvis' screen kisses (an affectionately tongue-in-mouth—er, cheek—look at Elvis' acting career that reportedly pissed off Elvis' manager, "technical advisor" Col. Tom Parker).
Elvis' act incorporated country, folk, R&B, and pop for what amounted to some darn good rockin'. The songs could also often be corny (sample lyrics from "You Gave Me a Mountain": "She took my one ray of sunshine/She took my pride and my joy./She took my reason for living./She took my small baby boy"), true of many of the film's songs: "See See Rider," "Polk Salad Annie," "Separate Ways," "Always On My Mind," "Proud Mary," "Never Been To Spain," "Burning Love," "For The Good Times," "Lighthouse, "Lead Me, Guide Me," "Bosom Of Abraham," "Love Me Tender," "I, John," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "Funny How Time Slips Away," An American Trilogy," "I Got A Woman/Amen," "A Big Hunk O' Love," "You Gave Me a Mountain," "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" and "Can't Help Falling in Love." But Elvis is such a unique and potent performer, so full of Southern savoir faire, and so reliable in his vocals and gyrations that thoughts of ridicule go to the backburner. Not to be discounted are Elvis' extraordinarily talented band and backing vocalists (including the male J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet and female Sweet Inspirations). Together, they produce a fat sound with a driving rhythm or, as the case may be, sensitive accompaniment for the ballads.
We'll certainly never see the likes of Elvis again, and it's doubtful we'll ever again see a pop star wear a jumpsuit, cape, and throwaway scarves to sing bassy rockabilly and do karate demonstrations. That's what makes Elvis on Tour so fascinating: it's a strong concert film in its own right, with candid footage between gigs (okay, the off-stage singing of gospel tunes feels staged) and a bit of biography to it. But more importantly, it's a historic document of America's most successful pop icon a scant five years before his untimely death. By the sounds of the screams and the volume of tears, there's no question he still had the "it" that made him a sensation on Ed Sullivan years earlier. The man inspired such fervor that coliseums would only clear out after this famous line was delivered: "Elvis has left the building."
Warner gives the King their deluxe DigiBook packaging, albeit with no bonus features whatsover on the Blu-ray disc. Bonus footage reportedly is out there, though one suspects the music rights make its inclusion prohibitively costly. More disappointing is the fact that the film has been altered somewhat from its original form. The opening montage—which used to be set to Elvis' "Johnny B. Goode"—instead unfolds to "Don't Be Cruel." Image quality is excellent, though, properly preserving the footage's filmic look with no sign of digital monkeying around. Grain is prominent, and the image is flat, but this picture has never looked razor-sharp and dimensional. Detail and texture are excellent, and contrast and color are right on. A lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mix means you won't miss a beat; this soundtrack absolutely makes the most of the original elements. The performances are what counts, and they sound nice and full. The full-color forty-page Digibook
is a very nice complement to the film: it includes all of the Elvis quotes from the feature, tour dates, essays, and trivia.
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