While much has been written about the power of pop culture and the musical prowess of Elvis Presleyit is 1968 Throwback Special and subsequent concert films around The King’s Vegas Years, the Golden Globe-winning documentary Elvis on tour sees the titular singer transcend his contractual obligations to tour America again, fulfilling the promise of his earlier career after a decade of acting in Hollywood and a seemingly endless cycle of contract performances in Las Vegas. Filled with split-screen footage of emotional performances across the country, Elvis on tour formally fragments Elvis to highlight the transitional state between his career peak in the late 1960s and his eventual decline in the late 1970s, highlighting the humanity of Elvis Presley in every frame. Boasting an audacious roster of off-screen talent, including cinematography by a prolific cameraman Robert C.Thomas (In cold blood, Stop making sense) and expert editing by Ken Zemke and Martin Scorsese, Elvis on tour pushes beyond the typical concert film formula to encapsulate a multi-perspective meditation on the man behind The King.
From the opening sequence of Elvis on tourveteran concert documentary filmmakers Robert Abel and Peter Adidge establish the film as a private take on Elvis Presley’s emotional vulnerability, focusing on a quiet moment between the King and his entourage backstage before the first show of his 15-city tour. Punctuated by the comings and goings of Elvis and a voice-over expressing his perpetual nervousness with regard to the live, Elvis on tour Boldly avoids the heroism and histrionics of celebrity-centric documentaries by placing the audience in the mindset of its subject. Although this scene superficially appears to be a brief prologue for the glamorous catsuit performances to come, the behind-the-scenes footage of Elvis Presley’s mental preparation for his concert functions as a tonal key for the rest of the film, orienting the audience to the scene. interiority. captured in the split-screen kinetic sequences. As the orchestral swells of Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” fill the soundscape to prepare for the King’s arrival on stage, editor Ken Zemke juxtaposes footage of Elvis’ final moments behind the scenes at three separate concerts on screen. shared, emphasizing the repetitive rhythms of touring as well as the daily record of Presley’s work.
Amid the energetic live performances that make up the bulk of Elvis on tour, cinematographer Robert C. Thomas employs impressive improvised camerawork to capture moments of humor and heart in the extended musical sequences. From the light laughs and gestures towards his bandmates that imbue the effortless freshness of “See See Rider” in the opening sequence to the air guitar antics at the center of “Polk Salad Annie”, Thomas’ vision of Elvis is centered on the playfulness and joy of his collaborations with his touring band as well as his accompanying singers. Even as The King maintains his undeniable star power in every performance throughout the film, Elvis’ charming community presence decenters his lone talents to place his fellow musicians and singers on an equal footing, underscoring the humility of Presley at the height of his fame in conjunction with his introverted nature. inclinations. Especially, Elvis on tour features an early performance of the hit single “Burning Love” in which Elvis confesses the newness of the track and apologizes in advance for any mistakes. As the song progresses, Thomas allows the multiple cameras to dwell on the growing trust between Elvis and his collaborators, focusing on the growing smiles of The Sweet Inspirations and The Stamps as they sing vocals. backup as well as Elvis’ increasingly flexible dance moves. Through the triple-screen format of his cinematography, Thomas emphasizes the collective power of performance through observational footage, focusing on the whole band working together with Elvis in a manner similar to his future collaboration with the director of photography. Jordan Cronenweth on the talking heads film-concert Stop making sense.
Although the majority of Elvis on tour Focuses on capturing Presley’s physical and emotional experience through contemporary imagery, the film presents a fascinating detour into Elvis’ early career, which was compiled and edited by cinematic icon Martin Scorsese. Opening with an evocative match cut between a weary 1972 Elvis rolling between venues with his entourage and a photograph of a young Elvis on a train with a record player in his lap on his first tour, the montage of Scorsese’s mid-film provides both historical context and tonal continuity for the picture’s naturalistic meditation on the state of Elvis Presley in the 1970s. Marked by an instrumental rendition of “Don’t Be Cruel” that pivots effortlessly into Elvis’ live performance of the same song and “Ready Teddy” on The Ed Sullivan Show, the retrospective montage brings an extra layer of humanity to the film’s investigation of Elvis, reminding audiences of the young cultural touchstone and musical revolutionary who became the jumpsuit-wearing rock star still touring with national fame two decades later. later. Mirroring the split-screen style of the rest of the film, Scorsese’s editing of Elvis’ early moments highlights the young women’s outrageous reactions and emotional responses to Elvis’ fundamental performance style, suggesting Presley’s influence on the sexual revolution and the musical counterculture of the 1960s.
Beyond the meticulously edited split-screen edits and performances, perhaps the most powerful moments of Elvis on tour are the quiet asides of Elvis’ own observations. From the silent stares that fill the close-ups in the sequences traveling between rooms to the prolonged emotional side of Elvis crying and listening as The Stamps perform “Sweet, Sweet Spirit” during his arena show in Houston, many of the most human moments on-screen now appear equally haunting and hopeful as part of Elvis’ larger story. Though the various vulnerable sightings show his slow decline amid grappling with the cost and consequences of fame, each shot of Elvis also reveals his humanity and complexity, stripping down pop cultural mythology to reveal an artist trying to channel his talents in positive. expression and maintaining personal health and family unity amidst a relentless schedule. Although Elvis’ tragic trajectory often overshadows the King’s later career highlights, Elvis on tour serves as a beautiful and empathetic window into Elvis’ emotional complexity, his undying love for his fans and fellow musicians, and the groundbreaking talent he brought to the stage night after night.