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.