- Gareth Crook
Elvis Presley : The Searcher (2018) - 8/10
This is everything Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Elvis’ isn’t. Yes it’s a straight up documentary, it’s not groundbreaking, it’s not slick, maybe it’s not even entertaining, but it’s real and informative. It’s long. Too long, but there’s a lot of voices here, all telling stories to lay out the facts and paint a much more colourful picture. The voices are often famous, but all faceless. Hidden by a dizzying amount of archive. Not much of Elvis in the early years, he wasn’t a name worthy of filming yet, but there’s plenty of black and white photography and tons of other material to keep this ticking. As voices like Bruce Springsteen, Vernon Presley, Priscilla Presley, Red West, Emmylou Harris, Colonel Tom Parker, Tom Petty, Jerry Schilling, Sam Phillips and Elvis himself flesh out the story. The DIY ethic of Sun Records, Family Dynamics, the odd army interlude, the raw live personality of Elvis. It all comes across. Parker isn’t mentioned for the first hour, he’s not he centre of this. He’s not vilified as such, but it’s still clear he was a master manipulator. For good and for bad. It’s a bit more matter of fact, here’s how it happened, without too many strong opinions. It’s quite refreshing. Although a little odd when the same treatment is given to America’s segregation issues. It’s suggested that was just the time, black music, white music, don’t mix. It seems to me if Elvis deserves any credit, the lion share should be in blurring the race line. That said, on that front he’s divisive. Accused of appropriation. I can understand that argument, but there’s no doubt the fella felt it. The early TV appearances are electric, improvising with ‘Hound Dog’s tempo. Blurring the lines of conservative decency and fuelling excitement of these new… teenagers. It makes sense, his desire to get into movies, he’s a screen icon and watching clips here, makes me want to watch the films. Another sign of a good doc. It’s explained that the army is the first exposure to prescription drugs… and Parker digging in deeper. He’s time to reflect, there’s also his introduction to Priscilla though. Every cloud. Many serving say how difficult it is to adjust back to civilian life after the army. Elvis isn’t exactly going back to a 9 to 5. Instead he’s thrust right back into the limelight. Parker ensuring he’s not forgotten. This is boring Elvis though. Sorry the soft ballads don’t do it for me. Crooning. Clean cut. Safe. I’ll admit the duet with Sinatra is cute. What interests me most is not all the nonsense fane stuff, it’s simply the music. There’s not too much dissection of it here, but there’s enough. It’s still a little surface, but it ticks the box. What a shame that there’s no behind the scenes recording footage. I guess we have to leave that to The Beatles. Perhaps it’s simply that Elvis was more of a performer than a writer. I’m not sure how I feel about that. He’s undeniably great, but it’s not quite enough for me to hold him up as high as many would like. There is a bit of rehearsal stuff for the first Vegas shows, but if I’ve one criticism of this film it’s that for a three and a half hour runtime, I would’ve hoped for some more candid material than we get. It’s almost like they’ve struggled to cut down the stories and have to scramble enough b-roll to fill. What’s certainly not filler is the 68 Special. I don’t think I ever realised quite what an impact it had. Specials aren’t a thing in the UK. The whole idea seems a little odd to me. It’s not very cool is it. This must just be a generation or culture gap, as it’s clear here that this was an event. THE EVENT. He was washed up, a kitsch pop star of yesteryear before and reborn after. It does feel pivotal. Especially the way Springsteen talks about it. It’s genuinely spine tingling. It’s more screen time though isn’t it. What a shame he didn’t play live more and further afield I mean. It’s obvious that without Parker, he’d have made different choices. Maybe better choices. Who can say, but the voices here are unanimous. The movies and music that came from them were by in large crap. Ultimately for all the career highs, there were many more lows. Not enough risks taken. Again not helped by him not writing his own material. Isolation. It becomes a thing doesn’t it and it makes this feel quite frustrating, but honestly insightful. So much so in fact, I’m convince Luhrmann has watched this several times over. It’s not a big blockbuster seat filler. It’s a two part HBO doc, but if you want to understand Elvis’ story a little more. This is a better place to start. Sorry Baz.