By Adam Ray Palmer
There’s no secret to be made here, I am a massive fan of Elvis Presley. So, when I had the pleasure of being an early viewer of the remastered Elvis: That's the Way It Is film, I was beyond excited.
The 1970 documentary movie is 90 minutes of pure bliss, but not just if you’re an Elvis Presley fan, let me explain…
To celebrate 85 years of Elvis Presley and 50 years since the film’s original 1970 release, the American documentary film directed by Denis Sanders, Elvis: That's the Way It Is, is back in cinemas for one night only this August (13th). This is an unmissable event for Elvis fans around the world, but also for people to learn more about what goes into a global superstar’s sell out show.
The film documents American singer Elvis Presley's Summer Festival in Las Vegas during August 1970. That’s The Way It Is was Presley’s first non-dramatic film since the beginning of his film career in 1956, and gives an honest insight into his return to live performances after years in Hollywood. And so, on July 31, 1969, in Las Vegas, Elvis Presley staged a triumphant return to the concert stage from which he had been absent for almost a decade. His series of concerts broke all box office records and completely reenergised the career of the King of Rock 'n' Roll.
Over the 90-minute feature, we get two halves. We see what makes a thrilling Elvis Presley show tick from the bare bones, and then we get to see the said show in action. As we see the King rehearse, Sanders’ film makes sure we capture the essence of what made him the music royalty he is known as today. Not only does he ooze charisma as he takes charge of the rehearsals in MGM’s Los Angeles studios, but we also see how much of a perfectionist he was. Whenever he would perform on stage, he wanted the performance to be tight, and that his band were with him for every note and beat. In the studio, we are treated to a rare version of The Beatles’ Get Back as Elvis stumbles into it from his hit Little Sister. The three minutes of footage shows just how immersed he was in his thinking towards his music as he simply follows the melody into the Liverpudlian band’s classic.
The other key factor that is raised at the rehearsals, and one that is carried all the way through to the live performances… is just how much he was idolised by his fans, friends and more importantly, even his peers. This film is as much entertaining as it is insightful, as we learn what goes into making an Elvis stage show so seamless. He rattles off his classic tunes including Love Me Tender, Blue Suede Shoes and Heartbreak Hotel whilst simultaneously making out with multiple female audience members. The previous sentence literally sums up the legend in a few words.
Once you nestle in to the second half of Sanders’ film, you quickly feel the notion of the electrifying live performances the man who gave us rock 'n' roll was capable of. This is fully realised with the climatic Suspicious Minds routine which last for nearly 7 minutes. This sequence is truly a mini show within the overarching spectacle.
And with that song and Can’t Help Falling In Love, Elvis departs the stage as he frequently did in Vegas for the next seven years before his untimely death. Like his shows, this film is a triumph. It sets out to show us the man behind the legend, and it certainly does. Elvis Presley was not just a singer on that stage. He was the director of the show, he was the conductor to his orchestra, and he was an absolute icon to everyone around him. And now through his music… long live the King!
Cineroom’s rating: 5 stars
Elvis: That's the Way It Is is released next week on 13th August 2020 in selected cinemas and territories – certificate 12A