The 1970 doc that’s just a hunk, a hunk of burning love.
Today would have been Elvis Presley’s 85th birthday, and by a strange coincidence, it’s also the same day as my grandmother’s birthdate: January 8, 1935. In select locations, the 1970 documentary “Elvis: That’s the Way It is” is given special screenings, and so, thanks to a little recommendation from a good friend of mine, I’ve decided to dish on it, and I just can’t help believing it’s good.
Before I begin with the review, I must be honest with you. I was never introduced to Elvis by my folks, but, instead, the media. The Disney animated feature “Lilo & Stitch” played some of his classic hits, and the hit 90s sitcom “Full House” had a major Elvis fan named Jesse, and his actor John Stamos did a fabulous impression of him. That’s how I knew who he was.
Now, on to the review of “Elvis: That’s the Way It Is.”
The film shows us concert footage, rehearsals, and interviews, as well as a number of the King’s songs during his Summer Concert event in Las Vegas in 1970. Most of the conversations were discussed by the RCA music executives, journalists, and his eager/quiet fans.
For example, a couple got married in Las Vegas two months earlier than they planned, just so they could see Elvis’ show afterwards. Sounds a bit selfish, but it really isn’t, based on their perspectives.
Another example would be how some of his fans don’t love him for his fame and glory, but rather for his spirit and personality. One of the interviewees even says he’s like a brother to her. And he, in returns, loves his fans, instead of letting his career consume him.
In fact, during his concert number of “Love Me Tender,” we see him kissing some of his fans on stage. It’s really cool and authentic to see him embrace his loyal fans, and it’s also funny in the ways he does it. Why did he have to die so young in 1977? I know you fans are asking the same thing.
I was bored by some of the music segments, but my spirits were high when I heard some of my favorites from him like “Love Me Tender,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” and “Sweet Caroline.” And we’re also able to see his sane fans and business partners deliver their praises for his character. So, you won’t find any generic screaming or raging, but patience and consideration from his followers.
Director Denis Sanders, editor Henry Berman, and cinematographer Lucian Ballard all give “Elvis: That’s the Way It Is” a stylish look and feel. The credits are fun when they slowly spell his name like this “E………..L………..V………..I………..S,” and the narrative art for some of the music segments, like the dinner party sequence, is mesmerizing.
But mostly, it’s the King’s spirit, voice, music, and love that wins us over. It’s a shame we had to lose him at a young age, but his legacy will live on, and this documentary is one of the countless proofs of that.