Elvis: That’s The Way It Is review: the King heads back to cinemas

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The definitive film account of Elvis Presley’s career comeback heads back into cinemas – we asked Sanjeev Bhaskar to check out Elvis: That’s The Way It Is.

By the end of the 1960s, Elvis Presley’s crown had been usurped by national service, a decade long sojourn in Hollywood, making mostly average fare (with a few exceptions) and the arrival of the Beatles and the ‘British invasion’. The designated rebel was in his mid 30s, married and a dad. Was he relevant to a music scene he had in many ways defined?

His response was to return to live performance and luckily for us, it was documented in Elvis: That’s The Way It Is, now being re-released into cinemas for one night to mark its 50th anniversary (a re-release rescheduled from earlier in the year.

The film is split between Elvis’ preparation for the performance, the interaction with his band, rehearsals, and then the blistering show itself. There had never been this kind of access to Elvis and there never would be again. We see the King, nervous, playful and fully engaged with his musicians and backing singers, rattling through his rock n roll repertoire and finding ways of re-interpreting contemporary songs. Although the film is not a warts and all investigation of Presley’s psyche, it does capture his process, and through that reveals a man finding his way back to what started it all: his passion for music and performance.

Once on stage in front of the Vegas audience, Elvis blows out his cheeks and shakes his head slightly, aware suddenly that this was it. He launches into ‘That’s All Right Mama’ and he’s away, caught up in the moment and, it feels, exorcising the demons of the exile of the previous ten years.

The old hits: ‘Hound Dog’, ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, ‘Love Me Tender’ and such like are interspersed with the hits of the day, such as ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ and the songs that would take him to the top again, ‘The Wonder of You’, ‘In The Ghetto’ and to my mind, one of the greatest live performances of any song ever, ‘Suspicious Minds’. That’s where Elvis not only belts the song out, but adds a physical performance that still stuns the eyes.

Two years later, the movie ‘Elvis On Tour’ would capture his breakneck touring schedule and win a Golden Globe for best documentary. A year after that, ‘Aloha from Hawaii’ would become the first concert by a single performer to be relayed live by satellite around the world.  Just four years after that, Elvis would be dead at just 42 years old. Which leaves Elvis: That’s The Way It Is as the defining film of the second coming of Elvis.

I’m glad he came back.

Elvis: That’s The Way It Is plays in UK cinemas on August 13th. More information can be found at its website, ElvisThatsTheWayItIs.com.


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