As part of the seventy-fifth anniversary year of Elvis’ birth, there are several new releases from the Presley archives coming out, and the Blu-ray release for Elvis On Tour is the latest offering, capturing The King’s final motion picture in high definition
Elvis On Tour is part concert film and part tour documentary, following Elvis and his band on a whirlwind fifteen-city string of arena dates – performing two shows a night, no less – encompassing half the country. Although the bulk of the film is live musical performances, there are also frequent breaks that include Elvis recounting his childhood and early musical career, as well as backstage moments of the tour showing the troupe journeying from show to show.
The style of the film comes from the editing trick du jour of that period, split screens. Perhaps in an attempt to replicate the success of Woodstock, split screens are employed and become almost the constant look of the film, with either two or three sections going at any given time. Occasionally this becomes an effective story-telling aid – especially through the montage sections showing the tour route progression – but at others they become an unnecessary distraction. Several concert scenes are just overly cluttered by the effect and distract the viewer from the actual point of the show: Elvis.
But overall, it’s difficult not to sense a mood of melancholy over the entire production. Because let’s be frank, this is Elvis’ career on the downswing, and already his outfits and helmet hair are overtaking his talent on-stage. Even some of his classic songs are re-arranged into the musical fashion of the day, instead of strongly standing on their historic merit.
Elvis himself seems either tired or depressed and often isn’t really performing at an optimal level. His residual popularity still packs out any hall he visits, and throngs of crazed fans still follow his every movement. But he largely goes through the motions like a seasoned but downtrodden professional. The only seemingly genuine bright spots come during the backstage sessions where he is singing gospel songs with his backing band. Although it could easily veer into cliché, it never does, and Elvis honestly seems to finally have some moments of peace and joy during these impromptu sessions.
One salient point is hammered home very effectively almost halfway through the film, when an early appearance of his on the Ed Sullivan show is presented almost in its entirety. In it we see Elvis in his absolute prime, not just in terms of youth and vigour, but also in musical relevance and polish. He is an excited dynamo and it becomes crystal clear how he could become one of the most popular and effective performers in history. But it is sandwiched in between and juxtaposed with an arena-level lounge act, where the heightened production feels like it’s trying to mask the lagging musical vitality.
It’s probably no coincidence that Elvis On Tour became The King’s final film. Although it was an immediate success at the box office, its content signaled the beginning of the end in many ways. A string of personal struggles began for him at this point, and his music releases began an overall wane as well. The movie plays out like a sad and bittersweet swan song, showing a talented legend already on the decline.
The video presentation for the film is judiciously clean, although it does reveal some of the noisiness and limitations of the original source. Grain is heavy, colors are often muted, and black levels vary from setting to setting. However, it also feels indicative of the time period, as the film stock carries as much of that authentic “70s look” as the costumes do. And thankfully, they resisted the urge to digitally clean up the grain. All things considered, it is a perfectly faithful presentation, and for that purists can be at ease.
The audio is more noticeably improved. It is a very well handled mix, making spare but effective use of rear channels, and presenting a very full and balanced mix of the concert footage. Kudos to both the original sound recorders as well as the engineers for this release in maintaining clarity through even some of the more quiet backstage sessions.
There are no bonus materials provided on the disc itself. The movie is presented as a very bare-bones release, with only scene selections and subtitles offered as menu options. However, the packaging itself, in the form of a Blu-ray book, is a nice collection of archival photos, quotes, and information related to the tour. Part biography and part tour scrapbook, the forty page Blu-ray book is a nicely laid out spread of photos – both from Elvis’ early years, as well as the Elvis On Tour dates – a tour itinerary, sample set lists from the show, a short biography, and quotes from Elvis about performing in general.
Elvis On Tour, although a fine presentation visually and sonically, feels like it was rushed as a stripped-down release, and as such doesn’t offer much to entice a purchase. As a title that is also available as a simultaneous DVD, on-demand digital rental, and iTunes download and rental, there are easier and cheaper means to refresh your memory on the film, as the Blu-ray doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of replay value. Although devoted fans and completists will find a well-preserved Blu-ray, casual viewers might do well with just a rental.
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