Certain celebrities, when they've reached a certain zenith in their... celebritiness, are capable of shedding their status as a human being, trading up to become something more timeless: an icon. Elvis Aaron Presley died three decades ago, and now when people recall him, it is often as a pop culture pillar, more so than an actual person who lived, to the point where his music is near irrelevant. His image instantly recognizable regardless, and so is his first name alone.
This Blu-ray collection is yet another symbol in the King's cultural perseverance. Released to commemorate what would've been Elvis' 75th year (although his birthday was back in January), this package is titled simply Elvis, because why bother with anything else? It's Elvis.
Within it contains the three most essential movies in Elvis' middling film career: Jailhouse Rock, the breakout sensation that gave us his most famous dance number; Viva Las Vegas, his most successful and celebrated film; and Elvis on Tour, a documentary that served as Elvis' last movie before his death five years later.
Jailhouse Rock is a fitting one to start, as the progress of its protagonist Vince Everett mirrors that of Elvis' own career—at least musically. There's a wonderful sequence where Vince, trying to understand why no one's impressed with his crooning, experiments in a recording studio until Elvis emerges. First, he loses the guitar, then he lets his voice go guttural, then he loses the chair, and finally, the hips come swaying. A star is born.
Elvis' character is a hot-tempered youth who accidentally kills a man in a bar fight he didn't start. While serving a brief manslaughter term, his cellmate is a washed-up country singer turned robber who ignites his desire for a music career. Post-jail, he's discovered by a record label scout (Judy Tyler) who, of course, happens to be beautiful and falls in love with him. There are two instances in the film where two different women can't stand his guts, but as soon as he forces a kiss on them—POW. Knees weak and his. "How dare you think such cheap tactics would work on me," Judy Tyler protests at first, but Elvis has the answer. "It ain't tactics, honey. I just got a beast in me." Rawr. Swoon.
It'd be offensive if it wasn't a reflection of Elvis' real life.
This is a recurring thing with him. Viva Las Vegas gives us the same thing. Though 11 films and 7 years apart (he was quite prolific)—and this time he plays a Grand Prix racer—the formula doesn't change much for Elvis. He stars in musical romances that has him as the young rebel with glamorous ambition and a saucy dame to tame. Many consider this to be Elvis' best film, no doubt because of the impressive musical numbers, especially the unedited title song; but also because of the undeniable chemistry between him and co-star Ann-Margret, who Elvis once called "the female me," which at the time resulted in gossips of them having an affair.
Elvis' ladies man rep is documented and lampooned in the Golden Globe winning Elvis on Tour, a documentation of his exhaustive 1972 "15 days, 15 cities" tour. As a concert film, it's not much. It cuts in and out of songs often, and the songs themselves, well, let's just say it's not the best. Then again, I admit that I've always been more of a fan of the rockabilly Sun Records Elvis than the chubby, mumbling, jumpsuit-wearing, karate-chopping, lounge cat Elvis. There's even a joke that the film spends as much time showing Elvis getting in and out of cars than it shows him performing.
What it does, however, is show us a portrait of the Elvis phenomenon. When he gets in and out of cars, you've got hordes of women going crazy, some of them breaking into tears, and Elvis laps it all up. He grins, he waves, he wants to stay and embrace them, but his posse pulls him away. Often, the film would show Elvis in rehearsals and truly enjoying just singing with his fellow musicians. On stage, he's all smiles; sweating, gyrating, leaning down to let female audience members wipe his sweat, which he rewards with kisses. Martin Scorsese worked on the film as a supervisor, and he's responsible for a great gag that compiles a dozen of Elvis' kissing scenes from his movies into a montage, set to Elvis singing "Love Me Tender." This is him, the King. He entertains women by showing his power over them. And it made him a household name.
From what set him apart, to the height of his fame, to a showcase of the frenzy that followed him to his later years, this is a good as set as any for those looking to get into Elvis and see what it is that made people crazy about him. There are a couple of other films that are worth watching too, but for the definitive picture, these three are tops.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
For the two narrative features, each has an informative commentary track byrock journalist Steve Pond and a pretty well-done featurette. Jailhouse Rock's goes into the historic significance of the "Jailhouse Rock" musical number, while Viva Las Vegas' naturally delves into the deep connection between Elvis' showmanship and the city of Las Vegas, which he'd later become synonymous to.
"Elvis: Blu-ray Collection" is on sale August 3, 2010 and is not rated. Concert-Film, Musical, Romance. Directed by Richard Thorpe, George Sydney, Pierre Adidge, Robert Abel. Written by Guy Trosper (Jailhouse Rock), Sally Benson (Viva Las Vegas). Starring Ann Margret, Elvis Presley, Judy Tyler.