Initially appearing as a two-hour CBS television special, Elvis by the Presleys is a two-disc set features over four hours about the life of Elvis Presley told by those who were the closest to him. It is filled with interviews of family and friends, famous performances and footage of Elvis, and an amazing amount of never-before-seen home movies of Elvis’ private life.
The program opens with Priscilla and her parents talking about meeting Elvis in Germany in 1959. When Elvis was drafted into the Army, he was already a singing sensation and a movie star. He was stationed in Germany where Priscilla’s father was serving in the Air Force. At 14, she was ten years younger, and her parents thought their friendship was very innocent, so they allowed the relationship to blossom. Elvis didn’t talk about her much in the press because a single Elvis sold more records. She understood this, but was understandably a little hurt and disappointed, as any young girl would be.
Priscilla moved into Graceland and Elvis went on making movies and albums. He was frustrated by the scripts he was given and wanted to do something more challenging like the work of James Dean and Marlon Brando. He didn’t think he was in their class, but their talents impressed him and made him want to raise his standards.
Performances of Elvis’ songs are used to set the tone for the topics being discussed. When Priscilla moved into Graceland, she talked about being unprepared for Elvis’ lifestyle. The video cuts to “Welcome to my World” from Elvis, Aloha from Hawaii. He denies having a serious girlfriend in an interview that then cuts to old black and white footage of him singing “Don’t Be Cruel.”
They eventually got married and the world learned about her. They then had Lisa Marie, who has a surprisingly good memory. She talks about events that happened with her father back when she was two. She must remember the stories being told rather than the actual events because her recall is unbelievable at times.
At times, there was a little too much of Elvis the saint and not enough of the sinner. The family knew they had to deal with some issues so they gave them a mention, but everything is quickly glossed over. I do not doubt the family when they talk about his generosity with his money or about his spiritual quest that led him to study many of the world’s religions, but a huge section of the documentary covers good Elvis and it’s over two hours before they mention his pill addiction and womanizing, which appeared to be happening his entire life. Ann Margaret isn’t mentioned until disc 2. It’s not that I wanted to hear about all the juicy gossip and rumors, but I wanted a full measure of the man, which includes the negative part.
Priscilla briefly mentions that Elvis was against equal rights for women and was very domineering, which led to their divorce. I’m sure if he had been more vocal, it might have made a dent in his fan base. Priscilla and Lisa Marie talk about dealing with the divorce. They provide as good balance as can be expected from family members who love him.
Disc 1 ends with the tragic death of Elvis at 42 in 1977, but his life was so big that they needed a second disc to fill in some other details about him, most importantly the music. We learn how he dealt with the changes in rock ‘n’ roll, such as the effect the Beatles had. Other music subjects covered are his work in the studio and the legendary ’68 Comeback Special.
In the section titled “Taking Care of Business,” we learn about the relationship between Elvis and his manager Col. Tom Parker. Elvis should have been treated much better and, as hard as it might be to imagine, he would have become an even bigger star if it weren’t for some of the shady dealings and incorrect decisions made by Parker. Unfortunately, Elvis made enough money to satisfy his whims and he was loyal to fault, so Parker remained around until the end.
Extras include even smaller segments, such as a look at Elvis’ love of karate and Jerry Schilling, Elvis lifetime friend, telling how Elvis and Nixon met in 1970. There is also a photo gallery and a slideshow of the gold and platinum 45’s Elvis earned. Kids, have your parents explain what a 45 was.
Elvis by the Presleys was edited together very well, but I was slightly disappointed that the archival footage didn’t appear in chronological order. It would have given a better impression of the progression of their lives, but that’s a minor quibble.
This DVD set is an entertaining, informative biography that belongs in the collection of anyone who considers themselves to be an Elvis fan. It also serves as an important document of 20th Century pop culture.