Elvis on Tour is Elvis Presley’s thirty-third film. The 1972 documentary, directed by Robert Abel and Pierre Adidge, centers on concert and back-stage footage of Presley’s 15-city tour in April of 1972. This is my favorite of all concert documentaries, which I’m sure everyone would enjoy. The fact that I love Elvis has nothing to do with it.
We first see Elvis in this film as he walks into a room backstage before a performance. He’s wearing his red jumpsuit and the huge sideburns. This is the only man who could carry all the bedazzled, bejeweled excess in my book and look absolutely stunning. I love it all – the gaudy rings, the cape, the studded apparel, the scarfs, the collars. We then see all of that in a wonderful split-screen of three Elvis images – white-red-blue and BAM, “C.C.Rider” begins to play, his signature opening number, and he rushes onstage to do what he was born to do. Very exciting!
Split-screen images are used effectively throughout the documentary. You can see a few examples from the images I use in this post. We get to see different angles of Elvis onstage, alongside shots of the audience, the entourage and many close-ups of his back-up singers, who get plenty of attention in this. Rightfully so, I might add, outstanding talents for whom Elvis had a lot of admiration, which comes across clearly.
But let’s be clear. It’s all about Elvis. He’s magnificent. That raw energy and power – lit from within, unable to contain himself.
Elvis on Tour features a lot of backstage footage where we see him in rehearsals and winding down while singing gospel songs with his back-up singers, something he says in voice over that “put his mind at ease.” It’s clear throughout the documentary that gospel was a huge influence on him and he could sing it as good as anyone. And the blues! Could he sing some blues, or what?! As I watched these segments, I was reminded of my visit to a Blues museum in Memphis, Tennessee a few years back. In one of the documentaries that’s part of the exhibit one of the musicians says, “there was black music and there was white music. Then there was Elvis.” As a life-long Elvis fan I’ve heard of his influence on music through the years but I really have never equated it to the Elvis I’ve admired, for some reason. In other words, that’s not why I’ve always loved Elvis. To me he was just something special to see in his films and wonderful to listen to. His beauty, charisma and talent appreciated by this fan on a personal level, not because of the mark he made on music. Having said that, though, hearing that he actually changed the face of music first-hand is…well, prideful in the inexplicable way we feel a sense of ownership in those we admire.
Other highlights for me in Elvis on Tour are the inclusion of varied kissing scenes from Elvis movies while he sings “Love Me Tender” on stage. I must mention the editing in the documentary as a whole is outstanding with several great montages throughout, which is not surprising since Martin Scorsese was the montage supervisor for the film. I love all the songs featured with personal favorites being renditions of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “You gave me a mountain” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and the line – “…but all my trials Lord, will soon be over” – just one of the many chills-worthy moments in this – his voice and orchestrations worthy of the King. One major complaint – at 92-minutes long, the film rushes by. Not a wasted moment but all go by too quickly.
I posted several other write-ups honoring Elvis that you might want to visit. There’s an ode to my favorite Elvis double feature, a semi-comedic comparison to Orson Welles and a commentary on his ’68 Comeback Special. No matter how professional I try to come across I always end up fangirling since I enjoy even the campiness of the majority of Elvis movies. But I have to say, the Elvis era I love most is the one depicted in Elvis on Tour. He is 37 years old in this – in his prime. A gorgeous man. Unequaled charisma, exciting sexiness, and sheer, absolute sensuality. It’s quite something to think while watching this – the energy and the apparent joy he took in performing – the turn his life would take, tragically ending just five years later.
I’ve watched Elvis on Tour many times but the most recent viewing was on the bluray transfer. In case anyone’s curious, it looks clearer and crisper than the earlier version of this documentary I owned on DVD. I’m guessing there are multiple sources so the “crispness” does vary a little throughout. The sound on it, however, is outstanding. I took full advantage of surround – my walls shook for, and with Elvis. The packaging to the bluray is really nice and includes a booklet with quotes and pictures associated with the documentary. I would have loved a few special features and this has none but be that as it may. As far as I’m concerned this is a must-have for Elvis or music fans.
As he rushes off stage, away from an arena full of screaming fans, lead by his entourage directly into a waiting limousine, congratulations on a good show thrown about – someone starts singing “For the Good Times” –
“Lay your head upon my pillow. Hold your warm and tender body close to mine. Hear the whisper of the raindrops fallin’ soft against the window. Make believe you love me one more time. For the good times.”
He takes his sunglasses off, looks out the window and goes to another place in his mind. A beautiful, introspective moment caught on film. The first time we see it his “thoughts” take us back to his beginnings, a very young Elvis swinging and swaying in clips of his early career and rise to fame. That shot is also used again later as the final glimpse we get of him in the film. It is my favorite so it gets a special mention.
Despite the over-the-top production of his stage shows, the glitz and decadence of wardrobe and persona, the best thing about Elvis on Tour is it also manages to capture a personal side to Elvis. We get a glimpse of a shy, vulnerable and humble man despite all the visual “stuff” that points to eccentricity. Despite all the jokes, no stories ever hint to the contrary.
We hear his voice – calm, cool, oozing southern charm – telling stories or reminiscing about days gone by, how it all began – the culmination of which we see before our eyes. On stage, the man who became the king.
Here’s to Elvis Presley (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977)
“I wanted to say to Elvis Presley and the country that this is a real decent, fine boy.”
-Ed Sullivan, during Elvis’ third appearance on his show, January 6, 1957
“There are several unbelievable things about Elvis, but the most incredible is his staying power in a world where meteoric careers fade like shooting stars.”
-“Newsweek,” August 11, 1969, Review of Elvis’ Las Vegas engagement
“A lot of people have accused Elvis of stealing the black man’s music, when in fact, almost every black solo entertainer copied his stage mannerisms from Elvis.”
“Elvis is the greatest cultural force in the twentieth century. He introduced the beat to everything, music, language, clothes, it’s a whole new social revolution – the 60’s comes from it.”
-Leonard Bernstein, 1960s
“…it was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody’s ear, and somehow we all dreamed it.”
“Before Elvis, there was nothing.”