"This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer ..."

Sat Jan 22, 2011 12:18 am

What with all the talk about video quality on privately-issued box sets, here's a terrific review of 1981's "This Is Elvis."

New York magazine film critic David Denby praises Elvis at his best as strongly as he demolishes Leo and Solt's documentary on the singer's life. Perhaps a tad harsh, his argument is well-reasoned, and worth a look almost 30 years later. Denby became a teenager when Presley exploded upon the American consciousness in 1956, which may explain his fierce devotion to Elvis as an agent of change. There are many lines to savor.


Looking at films of Elvis performing, I was stunned again by what he does.

Elvis Presley is still the most brazenly erotic act in rock history.




Denby's well-regarded career is now almost into its fourth decade; he currently writes for The New Yorker magazine.

Enjoy!


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New York magazine, May 18, 1981

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Sat Jan 22, 2011 12:21 am

Thanks Doc,makes for an interesting read

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Sat Jan 22, 2011 12:22 am

Thanks for "rescuing" another piece of history. Always happy to read your "findings".
Cheers mate.

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Sat Jan 22, 2011 12:46 am

Thanks for the article.
To me, "This Is Elvis" is the best Elvis' documentary up-to-date...
Still waiting for an Elvis Anthology DVD-set tho'.

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Sat Jan 22, 2011 12:58 am

Thanks, interesting read indeed!

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Sat Jan 22, 2011 10:11 am

Great find Doc. I'm not a big fan of Denby's current writing, but this is an excellent review of a deeply disappointing movie. Denby's rhapsodic description of Elvis's face reminds of Linda Ray Pratt's comment about how male critics seem to go on far more about Elvis's appearance than female ones.

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Sat Jan 22, 2011 10:17 am

Very good post, Doc, thank you.

The review chimes with my own feelings on the project: Elvis was great but the movie was slipshod.

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Sat Jan 22, 2011 10:23 am

I always hated how they faked certain aspects...such as the EOT footage of Elvis in the limo being made to look like it was after Aloha (complete with a new Joe Esposito voiceover)...and the added screams for Elvis' first TV appearance. Still, the footage makes the movie fun to watch.

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Sat Jan 22, 2011 10:36 am

I love the movie, I love the soundtrack...

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Sat Jan 22, 2011 10:47 am

Great find Doc.
Good read...

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Sat Jan 22, 2011 10:50 am

Grape cognac... interesting :o

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Sat Jan 22, 2011 11:15 am

Thanks Doc, the reviewer makes some interesting points, though I agree he is a bit harsh.

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Sat Jan 22, 2011 11:39 am

I've never seen this before and appreciate seeing it. I agree with the review, I always found the structure of TIE poor and found it on the whole slick but mediocre. But I also have to agree with another poster and say I love the soundtrack.

This review got me thinking. I teach English in South East Asia, and basically Elvis means nothing there. Most of my students have never heard of him and those that have only vaguely. But if they do know of him it is the fifties Elvis that they know and they will sing a few lines of Hound Dog, BSS or All Shook Up. Later Elvis doesn't register for them.

For my own amusement I do a class where Elvis is the centrepiece, it is narrative and life story telling, I use Elvis as an example. We have fun, I play some clips and some music, summarise his life. What the kids always respond to is the early Elvis, his power as a performer and the girls will often say "He is very sexy." As we move on they lose interest and are amazed at Seventies Elvis. Some even refuse to believe it is the same person, they find the jumpsuits hilarious, one kid looked very confused and when I asked his opinion he couldn't verbalise it, finally saying "That, that is him, is very strange."

I don't do this to mock Elvis, it is part of the lesson about aging and change in your life. However the real interest for me here is the visceral response to Elvis as a young performer which really gets the kids going and excited as oppossed to the seasoned Vegas performer which turns them off. Interestingly they all love the Korean boy bands, who while tamer do have this same look that young Elvis had. The look that is almost too good looking, pretty, but dangerous.

So I really like the review's emphasis on Elvis as an erotic performer. I have been fortunate to see this magnetism he had work its magic on teenagers who have had very little contact with him. The problem for EPE and many fans is that they emphasise the late period Elvis, the imps and all the rest of it, and this has really has destroyed him for many young Western people today. Only young Elvis can save older Elvis.

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Sat Jan 22, 2011 12:48 pm

Great post, Hasil, and this ...
Hasil wrote:Only young Elvis can save older Elvis.

is a fascinating discussion point.

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Sat Jan 22, 2011 11:13 pm

Hasil, you've written a fascinating post.

Hasil wrote: As we move on they lose interest and are amazed at Seventies Elvis. Some even refuse to believe it is the same person, they find the jumpsuits hilarious, one kid looked very confused and when I asked his opinion he couldn't verbalise it, finally saying "That, that is him, is very strange."


Ultimately these probably aren't much different from the reactions of American teenagers either, except that Americans have already been pre-conditioned by the fat-Elvis idea. Middle-aged Elvis basically made music for middle-aged people, and while teens can appreciate break-up music, something like Elvis's divorce ballads might not reach them. Most teens will likely find the post-1970 Elvis strange and hard to relate to.

Interestingly they all love the Korean boy bands, who while tamer do have this same look that young Elvis had. The look that is almost too good looking, pretty, but dangerous.


Yes, many have that slightly androgynous, teddy-bear side of young Elvis, though I confess that most have them haven't struck me as dangerous. Korea and Japan also have their share of heavy-metal, punk, and noise-rock bands, and the audience, as in America can get divided into niches. That was part of why Elvis was special--he was a teen idol with a genuine edge. Teens tend to miss that when see the same figure in a jumpsuit singing "You Gave Me a Mountain" or "American Trilogy." Appreciating the latter material is part of "the lesson about aging and change in your life," and Elvis can provide a good--and bad--example of that.

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Sun Jan 23, 2011 11:59 am

Agree, the Korean boy band kids aren't that dangerous to me either, but the kids I teach see them as quite edgy and their parents hate them. To clarify I teach mainly in Vietnam and China (in provincial cities), and have taught in Cambodia. These kids hate hard rock of any type and have had very little exposure to much of Western music's history. In a lesson about making opinions l played them some Black Label Society, Metallica and Led Zeppelin. They expressed their opinions by almost kicking me and the MP3 player out into the street!

So these kids aren't exposed to the more heavier rock that you do get in Korea and Japan. It is all pop and traditional folk, which they can all sing wonderfully. It does feel very Fifties there sometimes, I see my job as easing them into the rock generation using the Hillbilly Cat as the gateway drug.

Glad you enjoyed the post. I really would like to talk about these type of things, Elvis, pop culture, etc. I'm not interested in arguing or belittling people. Because I spend a lot of time in non-English environments the Internet is important and I try to get on forums where I can have discussions, it breaks up the isolation.

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Sun Jan 23, 2011 12:33 pm

Hasil wrote:To clarify I teach mainly in Vietnam and China (in provincial cities), and have taught in Cambodia. These kids hate hard rock of any type and have had very little exposure to much of Western music's history
.

Another fascinating fact. One extra question--since you've informed us of how your kids viewed early and late Elvis, what was their reaction to mid-period Elvis (the Comeback Special or That's the Way It Is, if you showed either of these)?

A personal experience of my own: in college I took a one-unit seminar on Elvis. We all had to give presentations, and for mine I showed clips from the Comeback Special, followed by the '77 clip of "Unchained Melody." My fellow students loved the former of course--I can still remember the delight on one classmate's face when he saw how Elvis tore into the beginning of "Heartbreak Hotel" in the stand-up show. But after the '77 clip they looked as if they'd been slapped. The reactions were far more shocked than I had anticipated, and afterwards people were reluctant to talk. The shock at seeing how hideous Elvis had become in nine years overpowered any consideration of the performance itself.

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Sun Jan 23, 2011 2:40 pm

I show them a clip from EOT that I got from an old VHS tape I had of it, I can't remember which song, one of the ballads because they tend to respond better to ballads. Of the fifties stuff I show them Don't Be Cruel from I think Ed Sullivan, as I said they bop along to this.

To answer your question, the EOT clip they just don't like that much, if I can remember responses from the last class they find the jumpsuit silly, his hair strange, they say that he looks sick (too white - which is funny because they are all on an endless quest to be whiter), the song they think is too country and twangy, too sad, not like Don't Be Cruel which they say is fun and happy.

I wouldn't show anything from EIC because I don't think it is fair on Elvis and I don't want to deal with comments like "He is fat like you.", which I know they'd say. I'm home at the moment so I might extract something from TTWII that is a bit of a mover, maybe Polk Salad Annie, and see how they respond to that. The purpose of the lesson is describing change so I won't lose the purpose by switching the clips and it will be interesting for me. I love teaching English to these great kids and I love being in provincial Vietnam but sometimes you need to create sort of a socialogical side interest for yourself in these lessons to maintain your own intensity.

I'm not surprised by your experience, I'm still gob smacked by Elvis' terribly rapid decline, so to see it in a matter of minutes could be a shock for people. When you see the way he struggles in the end and see the man really suffering it swamps the EPE promoted jumpsuit caricature that we have foisted on us in advertising, the merchandise and by the imps. That's the real guy there and look what he did to himself.

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Mon Jan 24, 2011 3:26 am

Thank you Hasil, Revelator and George Smith for your input and insights. The official line at EPE makes sense, choosing to preserve Elvis' memory by avoiding the low point that was "Elvis In Concert."

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Fri Feb 17, 2012 7:15 am

Interesting thread, folks.

I'm still a sucker for this movie ( my eldest -now late- brother came home from a stint in California, spreaking eagerly of his joy in seeing this on the big screen and sporting the new 2-LP soundtrack) and we lapped up the repeated showings on HBO cable circa 1982 or so. We'd shovel snow all winter and seemingly have the luck
of witnessing "This is Elvis" running so often on HBO as we warmed up afterwards. What a treat. I miss those days with my brothers.

That said, Denby makes some fair points, albeit in the above-it-all tone associated at times with my home city from which he writes.

That said, I still love the movie: it still best tells the Elvis story and it has been a great intro to many
a novice that I've had the pleasure of screening it with...

As to teens, fair enough, Hasil. But at 43 and a lot of mileage of my own, I relate to all eras of the
Presley story, be it 1948 or 1977. I don't look to teens at this point as measures of quality
music, nor did I 25 years ago.

Nice archival find, 'Carp.

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Fri Feb 17, 2012 7:20 am

Thanks drjohn.

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Fri Feb 17, 2012 4:31 pm

Hasil wrote:I've never seen this before and appreciate seeing it. I agree with the review, I always found the structure of TIE poor and found it on the whole slick but mediocre. But I also have to agree with another poster and say I love the soundtrack.

This review got me thinking. I teach English in South East Asia, and basically Elvis means nothing there. Most of my students have never heard of him and those that have only vaguely. But if they do know of him it is the fifties Elvis that they know and they will sing a few lines of Hound Dog, BSS or All Shook Up. Later Elvis doesn't register for them.

For my own amusement I do a class where Elvis is the centrepiece, it is narrative and life story telling, I use Elvis as an example. We have fun, I play some clips and some music, summarise his life. What the kids always respond to is the early Elvis, his power as a performer and the girls will often say "He is very sexy." As we move on they lose interest and are amazed at Seventies Elvis. Some even refuse to believe it is the same person, they find the jumpsuits hilarious, one kid looked very confused and when I asked his opinion he couldn't verbalise it, finally saying "That, that is him, is very strange."
I don't do this to mock Elvis, it is part of the lesson about aging and change in your life. However the real interest for me here is the visceral response to Elvis as a young performer which really gets the kids going and excited as oppossed to the seasoned Vegas performer which turns them off. Interestingly they all love the Korean boy bands, who while tamer do have this same look that young Elvis had. The look that is almost too good looking, pretty, but dangerous.

So I really like the review's emphasis on Elvis as an erotic performer. I have been fortunate to see this magnetism he had work its magic on teenagers who have had very little contact with him. The problem for EPE and many fans is that they emphasise the late period Elvis, the imps and all the rest of it, and this has really has destroyed him for many young Western people today. Only young Elvis can save older Elvis.


I don't know what 70's clip are you showing them but most people I know are impressed by Suspicous Minds from TTWII SE and many found that performance more interesting than the 50's Elvis. Same can't be said for Elvis In Concert clips.

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Fri Feb 17, 2012 6:11 pm

That convertible couch for $385 looks like a bargain!

Mr. Denby, in my opinion, seems dismissive of Elvis' career apparently as early as 1972, with his references to Elvis growing his hair "around his ears in a hood" and his "lewd comments about girls". We know these are the "Elvis On Tour" segments he is referencing before discussing the "final concert" in 1977. Yet the 1972 Elvis we see in "This Is Elvis" is the same man who conquered New York at Madison Square Garden (albeit with a tan in June). I wonder if Mr. Denby went to any of those shows at the Garden and if he did what was his reaction post concert? With the benefit of hindsight, and knowing how it all ended, its easy to make the leap that Elvis just slid lower and lower into the abyss. And to a large extent, I suppose you can make the argument that is really exactly what happened. The general public won't nuance the highlight of "Aloha From Hawaii", they just lump it all into the "jumpsuit" period. Am I wrong in this assessment? Dave Marsh I know says the 1970s recordings have some real highlights amid "tons of dross" but it just seems that critics at large assign no merit to Elvis in the later period. Didn't Mr. Denby get chills with Elvis singing "American Trilogy" over the footage of the White hearses making their way down Elvis Presley Boulevard? It's always been an issue to me, not that I am a blind 1970s devotee, there's alot I shake my head at, even the rushed feelings of many 1972 shows, but come on, must it always be so dour?

An interesting read; I've always like the extended version of "This Is Elvis" and the soundtrack was well played by me in those summer days of 1981.

JosephC

Re: "This Is Elvis" --> "The Most Brazenly Erotic Performer

Fri Feb 17, 2012 6:37 pm

JosephC wrote:Mr. Denby, in my opinion, seems dismissive of Elvis' career apparently as early as 1972, with his references to Elvis growing his hair "around his ears in a hood" and his "lewd comments about girls".


I actually didn't think that was being dismissive of Elvis during that period. It seemed more like flashes of 'the real' Elvis disrupting the shy, humble country boy narrative the filmmakers strive to create.

I think Denby is pretty spot on in this piece, most EPE approved versions of Elvis kind of neuter his essential threat, make him more Chad Gates than Danny Fisher. It's too bad really. Alanna Nash's Baby Let's Play House does an admirable job of capturing the 'otherness' ,with it's implicit sexual threat, that defined Elvis early-on, and it's a breath of fresh air amongst the white-washing that goes on most of the time.

Nice read. Thanks for posting, Doc.