Elvis: The Great Performances won’t necessarily be anything special for a hardcore Elvis Presley fan. This isn’t the first release for the programs contained on this two-DVD set, “Center Stage” and “The Man and the Music,” as both have been issued previously on VHS and DVD. That said they are entertaining compilations of concert footage, television appearances, movie clips, and home movies. Clocking in at just under an hour each, they are likely to be enjoyed by new or casual fans.
Neither program follows a strictly chronological format, though the clips move very roughly from the 1950s to the ‘70s. Presley biographer and close friend of the late artist, George Klein, narrates each program. Occasionally his comments are intrusive when they occur during performance footage. Luckily this isn’t too often. Klein’s comments help provide some context to the hodgepodge format. We see Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Milton Berle Show, The Steve Allen Show, and others. While brief interviews with Presley are sometimes included, each clip is noted with its original broadcast date.
It’s a little lazy to fill up so much time with clips taken directly from Presley’s many movies. In a way, this set is a teaser that entices fans to investigate further. Despite their general reputation, several of his early movies have held up well. Footage from such films as Jailhouse Rock and King Creole may inspire new fans to check the full features out. There is also some material taken from the legendary ’68 Comeback Special, a program that really deserves to be seen in its entirety.
One of the most memorable clips comes from a 1977 concert that occurred a few weeks before Presley’s death. Bloated and sweating profusely, Presley hunches over a piano, accompanying himself as he sings “Unchained Melody” into a microphone held by a stagehand. His vocal is almost operatic — a true reminder of his incredible interpretive skills that existed even near the end.
About fifteen minutes of bonus interviews are included on each disc, including those from contemporaries such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. There are interviews with some of Presley’s backing musicians too, including drummer D.J. Fontana and guitarist Scotty Moore. Collectively these interviews provide an informative supplement to the main programs. Carrying a reasonable retail price, Elvis: The Great Performances offers a suitable overview of some of the King of Rock & Roll’s most noteworthy appearances.