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That's the Way it is- the Recut

Sun Jan 08, 2006 5:33 pm

Way back at the beginning of time, my mother and I watched a repeat of the original "That's the Way It Is" on television. I was just a little kid, I couldn't have topped five years old but the movie was enough to start an infatuation with Elvis even then. The musical performances in this, Elvis' first documentary and 32nd film, are still strong enough to create fans in 2005. However, for all but a five-year-old kid the original film by Denis Sanders, an Academy Award winning documentarian, is problematic.

Sanders' film is weird. Many fans have complained about Sanders' almost belittling interviews with occasionally off the rails Elvis fans. Even in their time, these interviews were quizzical and hurt the film not only because of the fan's weirdness but because of many of them having nothing to say or Sanders doesn't let them say it. For instance, the scene where the fan promises to write Sanders "a dirty little letter" if the film doesn't turn out right always leaves me scratching my head.

Even worse these sidebars kill the momentum of Sanders' main thrust which is Elvis preparing for his August 1970 Vegas Season and the start of that season. Things go even further astray when Sanders interviews hotel employees who know next to nothing about their subject. The nadir of the film comes when Sanders pulls us away from riveting concert footage for ten minutes of a European fan club convention.

He ended up with a film that is essential viewing for Elvis and non-Elvis fans alike because of the fact that it is a presentation of the greatest stage performer of the 20th Century at a performing peak. But other than Elvis' brilliance on stage, it doesn't make a coherent statement about its subject. You have no idea what Sanders makes of Elvis. On the one hand, Elvis is photographed well and Sanders use of zooming camera in and out is brilliant compliment to Elvis' performance on tracks like "Suspicious Minds" and "Polk Salad Annie". However, he also intercuts Elvis with chopping meat and asks a waitress if the crowds go crazy over Elvis' body.

In 2001, Ernst Jorgensen and film archivist Rick Schmidlin got together to try and rectify the problems of Sanders' film. Using the MGM archives, Schmidlin with Jorgensen's guidance, went through the remnants of Sanders' original material and reedited the film. Out went all the interviews and hotel preparations. Even new opening credits were devised. New performances were edited into the flick and others cut. This was an act of remarkable hubris in that they were basically redirecting the film. It was also an act of cultural generosity as it attempted to restore the luster of an important moment in American Popular culture by giving Elvis' early Vegas work the documentation it deserved.

They only half succeeded. While this is a far better, more coherent movie than Sanders', it still is not the definitive Elvis in Vegas record.

Schmidlin sticks with Elvis following him through rehearsals and on stage. Not stopping for interviews anywhere along the line except for Elvis' brief comments and introductions. We meet Elvis' sidemen through printed introductions inserted on the screen. Places and dates are identified in the same way.

This makes Schmidlin's documentary much less conventional and more exciting then the Sanders' piece. Instead of a bunch of talking heads we are placed into a slice of life or more accurately a moment in history.

Schmidlin though drops the ball when he gets to the concert. I'd say half of the Sanders' chosen songs are thrown in the dumpster and replaced with new but amazing as it is to say Sanders cobbled together a better show.

For some reason or another, Schmidlin elected to pull two standout contemporary covers- "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "I Just Can't Help Believin'"- and replace them with a selection of oldies and big hits. This was a terrible decision for two reasons. One is that both of these were truly brilliant performances. Since the film came out Elvis' rendition of "Believin'" was seen as THE highlight of the film. Highlighted in brilliant lighting, Elvis completely immerses himself in the piece and the viewer/listener is swept away. It's really one of the great musical performances in any film. (Other songs were cuts as well including "I've Lost You" and "Sweet Caroline" but their loss is not quite as devastating.) What's more, the performances on some of the oldies particularly the big two "Hound Dog" and "Don't Be Cruel" are negligible. In person, I'm sure they were entertaining enough but they are just jokey toss offs. Their inclusion over the above mentioned performances reinforces the worst stereotypes about Elvis' work in this period, that he was just a parody of his former self. It also cuts off an important dimension of Elvis' stage show which was at its most contemporary at this point in time.

This is not to say that there were no good performances of classics but the show is top heavy with them. Sanders found a way to balance the hits and the contemporary stuff. As he was aiming this at the general public, Schmidlin probably wanted as much recognizable "Elvis" material in the show as possible making Elvis- I guess- seem more like an original. His decision though wound up hurting his film.

Schmidlin also made some questionable decisions in replacing some performances of songs with others. The most dodgy of these was including a version of "Suspicious Minds" with the lame "shove it up your nose" joke that Elvis used so often in later years instead of the straight version Sanders picked.

In addition to the song selections, Schmidlin's show suffers from some awkard cuts and pacing at the beginning although it picks up greatly at the end. And Sanders, by choosing from fewer shows with similar costumes, better created the illusion of a single concert.

In the end, Schmidlin's film is essential for the same reason Sanders' was- the utterly compelling subject.

The rehearsal scenes in both movies are a treat but are more defined and informative in the Schmidlin cut. There are some wonderful bits as he shows "Twenty Days and Twenty Nights" coming together with great intercutting between Elvis running through the song with the band while the backing singers learn the track from his recording under Felton Jarvis' guidance. You really feel a part of the creative process. (There's a really nice moment on stage during "The Wonder of You" where you can watch Elvis's eyes focus on James Burton's fingers as a guide for his vocal interpolations during the break of that song.)

If you glance quickly enough during this segment you'll notice one of the Imperials bringing his head down and singing along with Elvis' "whoaa" on the record. A fan's piece of affection, it lets you know that even his back up singers could be scintillated by the man's singing. This is one of the things Schmidlin gives back to us because Sanders, whose mind was on who knows what, left it on the cutting room floor.

Elvis doesn't come off 100 positive in these rehearsal segments. On the one hand, you can see Elvis' intimate involvement in the music, how he doesn't just sing but LEADS the band directing the overall sound. In the "Bridge" rehearsals you can see him trying and experimenting to get at that sound in his head. On the other hand, he is hardly ever serious and many of his jokes are kid stuff. This was his third season after all and rehearsals were not a life and death deal anymore. And if all our private jokes were memoralized on a public record they'd probably come off fairly lame. Still, critics who expect their artists to be tortured might not be so forgiving.

Like Sanders' movie though where Elvis really makes his statement is on stage. Even in this flawed presentation, Elvis' show comes off as one of the definitive concert experiences of the 1970s. And this represents the show at a kind of a peak. Sure, Elvis has lost a little of his fire since the two previous seasons. It was inevitable. Many of the oldies are just run throughs where in the original season they rocked. The lineup is not the radical revamp it was the previous February. It's also true that later on the show was more polished, professional and direct in its bang.

In many ways though even these flaws make the show one of a kind, once in a lifetime experience. The show wasn't as radically new as it was six months or a year before, but it was a refinement and extension of what worked in those shows. And while the show got more refined in later years, it also got more predictable. As presented in the films of both Sanders and Schmidlin, this was one of the most unpredictable concert experiences of the century even if the entertainment value of that unpredictability is obfuscated 30 odd years later.

For years, fans have been bewildered by Elvis' walk through the crowd in the Sanders' film. Schmidlin gives us a different walk and it indicates that it may have been part of that season. This was something that would have been unthinkable for Elvis in the 1950s but still must have stunned audiences of the time. Years before stage dives became a concert feature, your local Holiday Inn singer might walk down off the stage to sing among the crowd but major superstars didn't do that at large mega hotels. You know people were talking about it the next day. It's disconcerting to watch on film but being there it must have been a stunning attempt to connect with the crowd. (While stuff like this and the kissing during "Love Me Tender" doesn't work on film, it provided a level of audience interaction far beyond asking an audience to clap its hands or sing along.)

Even within the show proper, nothing is predictable although in many ways the flow of the show is planned and what works one night can be recycled the next. Elvis engages in monologues, plays with tiny guitars, breaks up the backing singers, makes good jokes and bad ones. He might sing "All Shook Up" like he's seen the first horsemen of the Apocalypse a few moments after him sending himself up on "One Night" and the next night change it up. He might mock the overwraught sentimentality of "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" or decide to rip your heart out with the same song.

Camile Paglia commented once that the American concert experience would never return to life if performers didn't find some of Elvis' spontaneity. This captures a lot of what she was talking about. It also helps us understand why Jon Landau saw Elvis as a master of musical comedy on stage.

That spontaneity works so well though because what Elvis managed to capture within a show that was brilliantly crafted. Without the punch devised by the rest of the show this stuff would seem self-indulgent at best. With it, it's an unforgettable experience.

This show is crafted with intense precision with an emphasis on both the visual and the aural. In many ways, Elvis' visual presentation was radical at that time. While acts like the Who and Jimi Hendrix used Elvis' swinging hips as a springboard to a more elaborate presentation of pop music upon the stage with lighting and theatrics, the 1969/1970 Elvis used their lead to up the ante with a sense of polish. And if it was a step beyond the usual rock show of the time, it must have made everything else on the Vegas strip seem like last week's papers by comparison.

Detractors have complained about Elvis' posturing on stage here. Every move, every pose though serves a purpose tied to some musical emphasis point in the song. For example, Elvis gives us the desolate paranoia in the first verse of "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" with his back to the audience. (An alleged show biz no no.) Elvis is in spotlight with the rest of the stage completely dark. This all makes the first chorus of the song that much more powerful when Elvis turns around to sing it in on a suddenly fully lit stage. Elvis is providing us with emotional enlightenment.

You can't say enough about the lighting effects in the show by the way. They also emphasize the movement and tone of the song. The work is further emphasized by the extra detail available on DVD.

Elvis' stage movements provide the same kind of insight and excitement. At moments, like "Suspicious Minds" or the first chorus of "Loving Feeling" Elvis stomps and prowls on the stage. His movements throughout the show have a sinuous- often low key but occasionally overwhelming- sexuality about them.

Unlike the 1950s, his arms and hands are his weapons of choice. Influenced but not dominated by karate they provide a sense of shock and violence on the up-tempo numbers and soul on the slow ones.

No estimate of the physical power of this show would be complete without a mention of Elvis' dress and physical beauty. Thinner perhaps than he ever was, he is definitely more fit as his chest shows a form it didn't in his early '60 open shirt tri-fecta "Blue Hawaii", "Follow That Dream" and "Kid Galahad". Well tanned, he is probably at the pinnacle of male personal beauty and his outfits- low key karate style jumpsuits- capture that. More chic than gaudy, they set him apart not only from the tuxedoed Sinatras and Martins but also the rocker hoards. He is one of kind.

None of this would work if the singer wasn't there and boy is he there. On a track like "Loving Feelin" his rhythmic phrasing using Ronnie Tutt's drums as his guide is among his most sublime. He outsings both Righteous Brothers with his inventive asides and subtle alteration of the melody. If his version does not eclipse the original (one of pop's few perfect records) it is only because of Phil Spector's ingenious production. It's still a thrilling reivention.

Not that he needs to reinvent the wheel. He steals Tony Joe White's "Polk Salad Annie" without even changing anything important in the arrangement except an extended ending. His narrative is that much more authentic, his singing that much more fluid and that ending is great.

The singer on display in these two numbers is not a parody. He is a relevant performer and consumate craftsman.

His voice isn't as physically beautiful as it was in the early '60s when he could float at the top of his register, but it has ripened into a rich baritone.

The sound he gives us here is like no other. Unlike say a Who show we get a little taste of everything within the pop spectrum. Ballads, swamp rock, protest music, country all of it done with conviction. Unlike later performances, Elvis still hasn't given up the ghost on rock and roll. Although some stuff is played for laughs, songs like "All Shook Up" still have power and life. At just about a minute, it doesn't work as well on record but on stage it provides rhythmic punch. Those are 60 exciting seconds as Elvis maintains intensity throughout. The rough edge of the '50s is off his voice but he can still generate heat. That heat is intensified by the fact that the orchestra is still staying largely in the background on the rockers.

Even the parodies serve a purpose.

The broadness of his sound can also be heard in his musicians and singers most of whom are brilliant, all of whom are finely attuned to what he wants on stage. They come from various fields -contemporary rock Jerry Scheff, country Millie Kirkham, black and white gospel the Imperials and the Sweet Inspirations, rockabilly James Burton- and their sound shows it in a unique blend that matches their leader's taste and vision.

All in all, the show that Elvis puts on here is a match for even today's extravaganzas. The big difference of course is that Elvis did all this and still found time to actually sing his songs. Plus, the level of spontaneity and originality here is too rare in these market driven days.

Watching both Schmidlin's film and Sanders' you understand why this show blew people out of the water. You understand why a sophisticate like Cary Grant, hardly a member of Elvis' core audience, was moved to call Elvis "The Greatest performer since Jolson."

That's why both movies remain essential viewing today.
Last edited by likethebike on Mon Jan 09, 2006 2:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Sun Jan 08, 2006 5:52 pm

I'd like to add some comments about the DVD of the movie while allowing you to get a little rest after all that.

First off the picture and sound are great. The colors are so sharp you notice things you never saw before like the lights emulating flames in the background of "Polk Salad Annie". This is a great discovery as it emphasizes what I spoke about in the review about the contribution of lighting to the show. However, occasionally when the new footage is inserted it looks a little washed out. This is mostly in the off-stage stuff.

Unlike most Elvis DVDs there are extras. They are for the most part negligible. There is an interesting and brief documentary about the reconstruction, maybe ten minutes. There is the obligatory trailer. Then there are two brief text documents about the original movie and about Elvis' film career. Only the newest fans will find anything new in them. There are also text bios of Elvis and Scmidlin (though strangely not Denis Sanders). The Schmidlin stuff is ok.

Frustratingly, the performances slashed from the movie are not added in as extras. This is a baffling decision especially since the fact that "Just Can't Help Believin" plays over the main menu. To have it playing and not be able to get to the video track (which since this is now the official DVD of the movie, you can't get it on DVD) is frustrating. It would have made sense to offer both versions of the film on the disc for comparison's sake. I don't know why that wasn't done.

Here's an off the head top of my list of cuts, replacements and inclusions for the concert-

Cut
"I've Lost You"
"Sweet Caroline"
"I Just Can't Help Believin'"
"Tiger Man/"Mystery Train" medley
"Bridge Over Troubled Water"

Added-

"I Got a Woman"
"Hound Dog"
"Don't Be Cruel"
"In the Ghetto"
"The Wonder of You"
"You Don't Have to Say You Love Me"
"I Can't Stop Loving You"
"Just Pretend"

Replaced

"One Night"
"Suspicious Minds"


"Heartbreak Hotel" and "Love Me Tender" appear also to have been replaced but I can't state that for a fact.

In the rehearsals- There are no run throughs of "Polk Salad Annie" or "Stranger in the Crowd". There is a new rehearsal of "Santa Claus is Back in Town" and a new versions of "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me". Not's sure if that is all the changes but it is the vast majority.

Mon Jan 09, 2006 11:51 am

excellent review, i thoroughly enjoyed it. i do agree that the original film short changed the fans a little, but i always get pissed off at the songs that were cut out. i did hear they would be put in with the special edition, but due to financial reasons, it could'nt happen. its a crime that the original edition has been taken off the market. i found it on eBay and am bloody glad i have both

i'm glad the fan interviews got cut out (though i did'nt mind the female fan club president, but thats another thing :lol: ). i enjoy the special edition becoz of the way it was put together, but i enjoy the original because of the now rare footage that shows Elvis at his very best.

if fans knew this Elvis instead of the parodied one, i think there would be better perspective on him.

BTW heartbreak hotel was replaced, love me tender was partially replaced with different footage

thank you for the review :D

Mon Jan 09, 2006 12:21 pm

Great review, man!

Elvis doesn't come 100 positive in these rehearsal segments. On the one hand you can see Elvis' intimate involvement in the music, how he doesn't just sing but LEADS the band directing the overall sound. In the "Bridge" rehearsals you can see him trying and experimenting to get at that sound in his head. On the other hand, he is hardly ever serious and many of his jokes are kid stuff. This was his third season after all and rehearsals were not a life and death deal anymore. And if all our private jokes were memoralized on a public record they'd probably come off fairly lame. Still, critics who expect their artists to be tortured might not be so forgiving.


I agree 100% on this. I don't like the "humour" in this film. There is too much of it. I guess they included so much because this movie - like all mainstream releases - is not aimed at the hardcore fans but the general public. And the general public are more interested in Elvis the Entertainer than Elvis the Artist. And they are more interested in "Hound Dog" than "Can't Help Believing". Elvis was, is and will always be trapped in his own image and his own popularity.

Keith Richards, Jr.

Mon Jan 09, 2006 8:38 pm

I'm hoping that at some point they'll release an upgraded TTWII-Se consisting of: Disc 1: The special edition as we have it. Disc 2: From the original film: I've Lost You; Sweet Caroline; I Just Can't Help Believin'; One Night; Suspicious Minds; Bridge Over Troubled Water. From The Lost Performances: Walk A Mile In My Shoes; Don't Cry Daddy; Twenty Days and Twenty Nights; Make The World Go Away; There Goes My Everything. Unreleased: Stranger In The Crowd; Words; Something; The Next Step Is Love; Little Sister-Get Back; I Was The One; Love Me; Are You Lonesome Tonight? Plus some rehearsal footage.

Tue Jan 10, 2006 3:21 am

Uhhh NEWSFLASH: Elvis had a sense of humor. He loved to cutup, have fun and was always having fun with it, laughing etc beginning from day 1.

Wed Jan 11, 2006 10:43 am

I'd like to soften some of my statements on Sanders' movie. Having watched it again last night, I think he does a decent enough job with rehearsals although not as good as Schmidlin. I was reminded of the nice moment, repeated by Schmidlin, of when Sanders cut to John Wilkinson's look of gentle appreciation after hearing Elvis sing "How the Web Was Woven" and Sanders is lighter on the sense of humor. Still, there's not enough of it and it's impossible what argument the film is making.

Looking at it again I think the meat chopping thing has been overblown. Sanders doesn't appear so much to be making a comment on Elvis as demonstrating all that goes into making the show a reality. The problem with this is that it's just not that interesting just like all of Sanders' hotel stuff. I'd forgotten the interview with the maitre'd which just goes nowhere.

Most of the fan interviews are still worthless and weird except for the couple who built their wedding around seeing Elvis. They don't have much to say about what makes Elvis great but building their wedding plans around seeing him makes its own statement. However, even their scene is dampened by the condescending minister who married them.

I'd forgotten how weird those female friends were with the cat. Other than their weirdness though they have nothing to say. The fans in Mondo Elvis were way out but had a point to make.

You can look for hours at the points Sanders seems to be making in the comments and the cuts back to Elvis but it's still hard to come up with something.

Still, he was more respectful and interested in his subject than I remembered.

P.S. Pete- From what I gather this recut was not a financial success which makes me think that this is the only "That's the Way it is" we'll be seeing for some time. Although, it wouldn't cost a whole lot of money to jump dump this and the original movie and "Lost Performances" into a two or three pack.

Fri Jan 13, 2006 10:41 pm

ImageImageImage


Lots to comments to chew on here, LTB: well-done!
I purchased both DVD's finally in the last year, and had to pay a pretty penny to find the now-rare original '70 version on DVD.

I agree that a quickie boxset throwing the two-versions together, plus "The Lost Performances" songs would be a nice box. I keep mine side-by-side and enjoy each in their own ways.

After all the outtakes released this year (and still being assembled in ever-better versions), there is still a heck of a lot of interest among fans about Elvis in the great year of 1970. Having gotten the FTD "That's the Way It Was" CD/ book and the bootleg of "Electrifying" recently, I look forward to the remaining unissued "TTWII " audio tracks getting an FTD airing someday.

Briefly, I will say I prefer the "all-Elvis" punch of the revised version, but also wonder about how latter-day director Schmidlin came to the conclusion that he should toss the more contemporary tracks that clearly were part of original director Sanders' vision - and that of Elvis, no doubt.

And, as has often been said, American cable television's AMC broadcast the "Special Edition" before the DVD even came out, so like many a fan in 2001, I rolled 'tape, capturing the new introduction by Priscilla - and the epilogue that featured the "cut" tracks. Sadly, the DVD of the original film (if you can find it) didn't even bother with such tracks.

This is must-have material that, with time, could go a long way toward making people re-think '70s Elvis, even if their eyes still get over-ruled by some moronic preconceptions of the King in Vegas. I think even more than Elvis audio, these "TTWII" concerts need to be exposed to as many would-be fans as possible. They just should not go out of print, period.

If I was forced to chew down my collection of Elvis in some kind of emergency, both of these DVD's would definitely make the cut, being in many ways "definitive" Elvis.


P.S.

Here are links to related TTWII threads:

http://www.elvis-collectors.com/forum/v ... highlight=

http://www.elvis-collectors.com/forum/v ... highlight=
Last edited by Gregory Nolan Jr. on Fri Jan 20, 2006 12:01 am, edited 3 times in total.

Sat Jan 14, 2006 12:58 am

I'm heartened to read that Greg. I agree too that 1970 is essential Elvis not merely interesting or better than 1975.

Sun Jan 15, 2006 3:39 pm

This week I also rediscovered our EIN interview with Rick Schmidlin Producer of the TTWII Recut. Interesting to read it again in hindsight.

I can't believe that he mentioned the possibility of him recutting 'Elvis On Tour' as a subsequent project. (I had forgotten that he said it at the time, it seemed so inevitable back in 2000!)

It is also a coincidence that you can check out the original TTWII on the TCM channel this month.

Cheers
Piers

Mon Jan 16, 2006 3:42 am

another good read there. thank you :D

Thu Jan 19, 2006 12:37 am

likethebike wrote:I was reminded of the nice moment, repeated by Schmidlin, of when Sanders cut to John Wilkinson's look of gentle appreciation after hearing Elvis sing "How the Web Was Woven"...


This is definitely one of my favorite moments in any music film. It seems to encapsulate so much of the Elvis magic, and many of the various elements that make up the relationship between Elvis, the listener, and the music. This is a man who’s just playing for himself, the only accompaniment being the piano and his voice. Certainly he must be aware of the cameras and people around him, but somehow he gets lost amidst it all. Not just in the song, but in the process of making music – he’s lost in himself. What you see here is not Elvis the Entertainer, but Elvis the person. This is what it must have been like at home, when there was no one else around, and you suddenly find a room with just him and his piano. This is “I Understand Just How You Feel” in 1958 in Texas and “Mona Lisa” a year later in Germany when he was so far from home (The Home Recordings, BMG). But there’s so much more to it. You can see the self-awareness and the self-deprecation at playing the wrong chord as he shakes his head (just after “woven”). Perhaps the most beautiful part is when John Wilkinson smiles. This isn’t a smile that precedes laughter; it’s a smile that finds its way to your face out of pure happiness. This is a man who had already played with Elvis for two seasons, and could, at the very least, be described as knowing Elvis the Musician quite intimately. And yet you can’t help but see the admiration on his face as he witnesses something that is so elusive and fragile; you can’t fabricate a moment like that. Look at his astonished face just before he smiles. He too is lost in the moment:

Image

You’ll have to take a look at the actual segment to fully appreciate it (it starts 0:08:51), but it’s absolutely amazing. In the end you’re reminded that it’s still Elvis, as he rolls off his seat, and there again is another important part of the singer: that humor that comes at any expense, even if it means making a somewhat abrupt ending to this delicate visit to a place that Elvis must have traveled to any number of times when he felt he needed to.

If I can think of something that likethebike hasn’t covered yet (:lol:), I hope to share some of my thoughts on this film. I’ve generally considered 1970 to be my favorite “Elvis year,” one of the relatively few in which he was amazing on stage, nearly flawless in the studio, and he had a mind-blowing (albeit flawed) film in theaters, all at the same time.

I love it. This is what it’s all about.

.

Thu Jan 19, 2006 10:11 am

Excellent review LTB. We should pay you to write here! Except during election year....lol

Thu Jan 19, 2006 3:07 pm

Thanks Blue Gypsy.

You might be interested to know that I watched "The Last Man on Earth" last night and thought of your avatar during that scene. My sister thought the plot was thematically flawed but liked it overall.

I just picked up the double features DVD. The print is great much better than the PD print I had before. ("Panic in the Year Zero" is on the other side.) I was very surprised to find out that Richard Matheson did have a role in writing the screenplay. I figured outsiders did it because a lot of the intent of his novel is lost. Frustrated by censorship cuts, he worked under a pseudonym. It's still an interesting movie and the scenes where the zombies/vampires bang on his house anticipates "Night of the Living Dead".

Thu Jan 19, 2006 7:36 pm

The Gypsy Returns! Welcome back. :D

Fri Jan 20, 2006 9:17 pm

Peter Franks wrote:
likethebike wrote:I was reminded of the nice moment, repeated by Schmidlin, of when Sanders cut to John Wilkinson's look of gentle appreciation after hearing Elvis sing "How the Web Was Woven"...


This is definitely one of my favorite moments in any music film. It seems to encapsulate so much of the Elvis magic, and many of the various elements that make up the relationship between Elvis, the listener, and the music. This is a man who’s just playing for himself, the only accompaniment being the piano and his voice. Certainly he must be aware of the cameras and people around him, but somehow he gets lost amidst it all. Not just in the song, but in the process of making music – he’s lost in himself. What you see here is not Elvis the Entertainer, but Elvis the person. This is what it must have been like at home, when there was no one else around, and you suddenly find a room with just him and his piano. This is “I Understand Just How You Feel” in 1958 in Texas and “Mona Lisa” a year later in Germany when he was so far from home (The Home Recordings, BMG). But there’s so much more to it. You can see the self-awareness and the self-deprecation at playing the wrong chord as he shakes his head (just after “woven”). Perhaps the most beautiful part is when John Wilkinson smiles. This isn’t a smile that precedes laughter; it’s a smile that finds its way to your face out of pure happiness. This is a man who had already played with Elvis for two seasons, and could, at the very least, be described as knowing Elvis the Musician quite intimately. And yet you can’t help but see the admiration on his face as he witnesses something that is so elusive and fragile; you can’t fabricate a moment like that. Look at his astonished face just before he smiles. He too is lost in the moment:

Image

You’ll have to take a look at the actual segment to fully appreciate it (it starts 0:08:51), but it’s absolutely amazing. In the end you’re reminded that it’s still Elvis, as he rolls off his seat, and there again is another important part of the singer: that humor that comes at any expense, even if it means making a somewhat abrupt ending to this delicate visit to a place that Elvis must have traveled to any number of times when he felt he needed to.

If I can think of something that likethebike hasn’t covered yet (:lol:), I hope to share some of my thoughts on this film. I’ve generally considered 1970 to be my favorite “Elvis year,” one of the relatively few in which he was amazing on stage, nearly flawless in the studio, and he had a mind-blowing (albeit flawed) film in theaters, all at the same time.

I love it. This is what it’s all about.


Peter, that was beautifully said. I remember that point of the film very well.

Wed Jan 25, 2006 4:01 pm

Fascinating comments by all!

likethebike, I appreciate the studious and philosophical illumination you bring to the board. As a new poster but long-time lurker, I am familiar with many of your posts.

Ultimately, every coin has two sides, and while I very much appreciate - and to some extent, agree with - everything you said, I find this single sentence to be the most reliable and authoritative: "In the end, Schmidlin's film is essential for the same reason Sanders' was- the utterly compelling subject." Anything and everything else is up for debate. To that end...

I only own and have only seen the SE of That's The Way It Is - though I am familiar with parts of the original (through the original trailer included on the DVD, through a video clip I have of Elvis performing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and through the cut recording of "I Just Can't Help Believin'"). That said, based on your comments and the horrific fan interviews for the original TV broadcast of "Elvis In Concert", I find myself in agreement with you in terms of their significance/worth in the original TTWII cut. Clearly, Sanders was trying to capture some of that awe and wonder that all fans have for the thing they're fans of, but whenever you venture out and do that, you're practically defeating the point of the object: fans of a given thing, especially in popular fields like music (i.e. when they're all gathered together at the same place in a quasi-religious fashion) are hardly, with some exceptions, going to bring profound and insightful thoughts to the table. Nine times out of ten, what are you going to hear? "[This band/person] is the greatest thing in the world!", or, "I wouldn't pay to hear anyone else!", or, "No one else compares". Yeah - that sure is helpful. I'm not looking down on these people at all; I think we're all fundamentally the same in those situations. But the point stands. Worse yet, if you do get something "above and beyond" the typical adulated response, it's probably going to seem bizarre, removed, and as a result, unfortunately comical. Fan interviews are a massive crapshoot. I don't think Sanders, then, was able to pull that aspect off. It probably does, as you've implied, work to the detriment of the original cut.

But that may be the only point in which the original truly floundered. The omission of Bridge Over Troubled Water and I Just Can't Help Believin in the new cut is terrible. As you rightly say, these were two knock-out, powerhouse performances that Elvis worked hard on and stunned audiences with. They really highlight where Elvis artistically was at this point in time. Further still, by including more moments of comedy and lightheartedness in the new cut, Schmidlin tips the balance towards parody when the denser material - like Bridge and Believin' - is decidedly absent. It's a double whammy to the fabric of the film. If the two ran alongside each other, with Elvis alternating between playfulness and pathos, jubilance and introspection, think how much more powerful the whole thing would be! I'd also like to point out another reason for why I Just Can't Help Believin' should be included: in the pre-show footage with Elvis and the MM, we see him panicking about forgetting the words to I Just Can't Help Believin: thus, we have the setup, but we're missing the climax. The fact that he DID actually mess up at one spot, albeit minutely, underscores the simultaneous professionalism and human fallibility of the guy. It's a delicate thread that's been lost. I desperately hope it's remedied in the future.

Now, since I touched on the inclusion of ligher performances in that last paragraph, I'd just like to comment more exactingly on those. Personally, as much as I'd have loved to have seen Elvis delivering brutally raw performances of his classic hits, it doesn't bother me all that much that he didn't. 1970's Elvis is different to 1969's Elvis, 1971's Elvis is different to 1970's Elvis and so on. If That's The Way It Is is to live to up to its title, then it needs to be presenting an honest cross-section of Elvis' music and appeal at the point it was compiled - and this does mean, like it or lump it, "crazier", spoofier deliveries of Hound Dog and its musical peers. As they stand, they're pretty darn entertaining, actually. Elvis' introduction to Hound Dog is a riot. I was as stumped as I'm sure the real-life audience members were the first time I saw that segment! And, to use a cliche, that's the way it is/should be. The same goes for the rehearsal segments. If Elvis was clowning around, well then, he was clowning around. Elvis was never a tortured artist in the conventional sense of the phrase! True, there were times he was up and times he was down, and there were also years he was energetic and years he was solemn, but when all is said and done, his high spiritedness is a part of his appeal - and his liveliness and zest for life makes That's The Way It Is an entrancing and memorable package.

I ended my paragraph with a key word there: package. Although Elvis delivers some impressive singing and re-workings of great songs (You've Lost That Loving Feeling is spectacular), That's The Way It Is does not bowl me over musically. On the whole, the band is a little too warm and smooth (I want some edginess, damn it!); Elvis himself isn't anywhere near as tight and focused as just two years ealier in the 1968 Comeback Special, either. That's The Way It Is only comes alive - but truly comes alive - when I look at the whole thing as a package. It was Elvis himself who assembled the band members and backing singers, worked with Bill Belew on the jumpsuits, probably had extensive say-so on the lighting, worked on the musical arrangements, developed his dance moves, chose set lists, concocted jokes and sight gags, set the mood and pace and so on. And that is truly amazing to think of. Far from being a puppet of a record company or Parker, Elvis oversaw a startling array of disparate elements and wove them into a great whole! It's a whole that continually dazzles and thrills. How many people in the music industry have ever shown this much innovation? Working within his Vegas contract drawn up by the Colonel and certain aesthetic limitations of the Vegas showroom itself, Elvis turned abstract nothings into a glorious something! Most impressively of all, and in true Elvis style, the entire thing is free of pretense; it's all done for the joint benefit of himself and his audience. If there was one word that encapsulated the theme of That's The Way It is - and it's a theme that works on multiple levels - it would be this: synergy. That's The Way It Is is a truly impressive piece of entertainment, and while the editing of both versions is somewhat responsible for inducing the feelings it does, it's the source material that it's built around - Elvis' showmanship and Elvis' show - that does the lion's share. What a remarkable statement by a remarkable entertainer.

Re: That's the Way it is- the Recut

Thu Jan 15, 2009 8:30 am

Cryo' wrote (in 2006)

"...'That's The Way It Is' does not bowl me over musically. On the whole, the band is a little too warm and smooth (I want some edginess, damn it!); Elvis himself isn't anywhere near as tight and focused as just two years ealier in the 1968 Comeback Special, either. 'That's The Way It Is' only comes alive - but truly comes alive - when I look at the whole thing as a package...."


I almost feel like the material of TTWII is beyond criticism given Elvis' overall stellar condition and artistry but you may be right about the band, as good as they are. I'm not sure I could prove that, though as they are damned good. And Elvis isn't as tight or focused but his free wheeling nature makes up for it as well as his more fullly-rounded voice. I really can't pick a bone with it beyond the recut's clueless dropping of some tracks... Enjoyable comments, LTB and Cryo'.

Pete Dube wrote:I'm hoping that at some point they'll release an upgraded TTWII-Se consisting of: Disc 1: The special edition as we have it. Disc 2: From the original film: I've Lost You; Sweet Caroline; I Just Can't Help Believin'; One Night; Suspicious Minds; Bridge Over Troubled Water. From The Lost Performances: Walk A Mile In My Shoes; Don't Cry Daddy; Twenty Days and Twenty Nights; Make The World Go Away; There Goes My Everything. Unreleased: Stranger In The Crowd; Words; Something; The Next Step Is Love; Little Sister-Get Back; I Was The One; Love Me; Are You Lonesome Tonight? Plus some rehearsal footage.


Image

Well, we did eventually get something close to that (thank goodness) with the 2-DVD set of 2007 although the extras were limited and in subpar sound. I've since ditched the old versions, selling off one at a nice sum (the original) and giving away the single-disc DVD to a budding fan.

Re: That's the Way it is- the Recut

Sat Jan 17, 2009 2:45 am

The 2007 version may be the final official word for quite some time. Can't see the studio allocating funds for another stab at this material. Both films have flaws and both films clearly showcase some incredible work by Elvis Presley. The 2000 remake is a better film (sadly with some bizarre song deletions), but at least both films are available together in one package along with some bonus material.

Re: That's the Way it is- the Recut

Sat Jan 17, 2009 4:22 am

The SE is far superior.

Once Elvis is on stage, he's on. And there's no talking head BS to interrupt the flow. I would have liked to have had Ann Moses, that cute Tiger Beat chick, left in though! The stuff from the British fans in the original film is just plain embarrassing and dates the film even more so than the hairstyles and Elvis' jumpsuits. And that UK stuff was completely unnecessary. Just awful.

The SE gives a better idea of how the show was put together, and greater credit to those that backed Elvis.

My only main quibble is replacing Suspicious Minds with another version. As great as it was to see it, I think the original was just perfect, especially with that wonderful shoulder-thrusting ending.

Bridge certainly should have been left in as well.

As for I Just Can't Help Believing, I for one was glad it was turfed. Never liked the song, not even Elvis' version. Far too long, and it never gets out of first gear. I think possibly that it was left out as no one remembers the song much these days, either from Elvis or other versions. I can live without it, and only rarely watch/play it.

Actually, a second quibble. Performance choices aside, the new version should have been at least the same length as the original, not shorter!

Re: That's the Way it is- the Recut

Sat Jan 17, 2009 4:34 am

"Bridge Over Troubled Water" should have been included if only for closure for the rehearsal segment where Elvis is working hard to get the arrangement to his satisfaction.

"I Just Can't Help Believin'" should have been included to make sense of the "hope I don't mess up" dialogue prior to going onstage and also because it was a hit single for Elvis in the UK and was the leader to the album. It even appears as background music to the menu screen on the DVD! Like it or not it is as much linked to "That's The Way It Is" and "The Wonder of You" is to "February 1970, On Stage" - to Elvis fans at least.

"Suspicious Minds" - for me its the climax of the song that suffers. In the original we get the awesome shoulder shaking/drum roll finale. In the re-make we get a struck pose.... not as exciting.

As to movie length - definitely! The 90 minutes we have for the new version reeks of executive involvement "OK, make the damn movie, but keep it to 90 minutes!"

Re: That's the Way it is- the Recut

Sat Jan 17, 2009 9:00 am

And it's a minority view that "I Just Can't Help Believin'" is a bad song - but agree that the song is sort of muted overall but its effective just the same.

It's a mature and contemporary song overall, although his doing it reinforces his 'cover-orientation" as a non-song writer. It did , after all, chart rather well for BJ Thomas.

But it's part of history and TTWII shouldn't have been so hacked down.

Re: That's the Way it is- the Recut

Sun Jan 18, 2009 6:10 am

I'm enjoying these conversations. LTB, you're as articulate here as you are in the political threads. :)

Regarding the missing songs in SE - wasn't it because of the cost of rights to the songs? Some publishers can get very greedy and perhaps the producers of TTWII SE decided they couldn't afford the cost. Does anyone know?

Re: That's the Way it is- the Recut

Sun Jan 18, 2009 7:46 pm

I loved the SE and how it was put together. I think the pic quality and sound are very good and the song selections better then the original except for the omission of Sweet Caroline and Bridge and yes Suspicious Minds should have been left in as well. Other then that I love it and consider it much better then the original. To me it gives a sence of a complete Vegas show from August 1970 unlike the original. I to think that we wont see any more ETTWII material from Turner anytime which spells bad news for a release of EOT. The SE tanked because of little or no publicity and because Turner pulled the plug on the second dvd that was supposed to come with it. But with the flood of bootleg dvds from people like Star I aint to upset about it because I now have enough TTWII material to keep me happy.