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"Elvis was a searcher. It was a part of him that never left." Priscilla tells Elvis fans in the first thirty seconds of HBO's Elvis Presley: The Searcher.
We find ourselves floating within the silent living room of Graceland. The sound of NBC's intro to "Singer Presents Elvis," later to be known as "The 1968' Comeback Special," comes on the TV screen in the music room. Multiple shots take you to the early stages of Elvis' life and back as the documentary begins.
Not too long after we watch as the Gates of Graceland open up and we as spectators are welcomed into a world and a story that even the most die-hard fans have never heard before.
What sets Elvis Presley: The Searcher apart from any other Elvis bio-pic is the calmness it keeps while telling the story of his life. One could almost compare it to sitting in a chapel in a celebration of life for one of their closest friends.
Ones being interviewed are off camera, which keeps our focus on the candid moments of Elvis' life and his thoughts. That is what makes this documentary so great. The realness. You're not drowning in the propaganda of The King of Rock n' Roll, Elvis. You are brought into the heart of the man behind the music, Elvis Aron Presley.
Elvis Presley went to sleep a truck driver and woke up one of the biggest rebels and sex symbols of the 50's. The outcome of this dream coming true had its triumphs and its downfalls. Those teenagers that ridiculed him now envied him. The women went ballistic to his gyrating hips, stage performance.
All this and more was a troubling thought to his mother Gladys. Elvis Presley was her only child (other than Elvis' twin brother Jesse Garon who passed away at birth) and with that came a great bond. A bond that could not be broken by anyone. What the Searcher does for us is paint a picture of this. What was the core strengths Gladys gave Elvis? What barriers were taken with her when she passed away and Elvis' true confidant was gone?
Though many know that for two years Elvis went into the army. This is where he was to meet his wife Priscilla. Not many understood what changes Elvis went through while serving his country. His mother was gone. The music had changed and Elvis was forced to face these changes without a guide in front of him or anyone behind him for that matter.
Before embarking on this newfound life. Elvis had to face the music of his movie obligations. Everyone knows Elvis' movies were cheezy, even Elvis. The storylines were so much the same it was as if you were watching the same movie only with different actors and different changes of scenery.
I truly believe that if Elvis were given an opportunity to make serious movies, like Charro, he would have become what many actors/actresses are. The singers turn screen performer. Though I am glad the contracts were done and the real Elvis Presley could return to what Elvis does the best, tell a story through his singing. Making you feel the emotion instead of watching it play out in front of you with someone else's lines.
There are two greatest moments of this documentary. The only two times Elvis got to be himself. The 1968 Comeback Special and Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite. As I have said before in recent articles, this was Elvis' time to shine. Elvis proved he had lost nothing during his hiatus from stage performance. Though the 1968 Comeback Special was more of an impromptu jam session with a variety show feel. The power in Elvis Presley's voice and the relaxation of his emotions made this one of the greatest performances of the Presley career. The Searcher brings you into the dressing room. It takes you behind the mindset of Elvis at the time. This was no little step. This had to be a leap, a leap of faith in which RCA's Finest had to remind the new generation why he was, who he was.
The caterpillar was going to turn into a butterfly from there on out. Engagements in Vegas brought out the dreamer in Elvis, his wardrobe was that of Vegas, the dazzle, the style. Elvis' stage performance just empowered the audience. Mesmerizing every spectator, women crazed once again like little school girls and the men hurriedly took mental notes from this master of libido.
Vegas was the starting point that turned the Jack into King. By the time Elvis walked out on stage on The Aloha From Hawaii Special, Elvis knew his power over his audience. He understood what songs he could capture them with. The little boy's smile broke the heart of all who watched. This was Elvis. The crowd wasn't small in the Hawaiin amphitheater and it most definitely wasn't small over the television waves. He literally had the undivided attention of the whole world. He was the star. He was the musical messiah.
Once the crowd scattered away. Elvis was brought back to the reality of his everyday life. His mother gone, his group of friends, though small, couldn't keep his spirits up. To top it all off, Priscilla had filed for divorce. One can speculate that this was the first time in Elvis' life he was confronted with being the man who had everything, but had nothing at all. Elvis once said, and forgive me for not remembering it word for word: "You can have all the riches in the world, fancy clothes, nice cars, but if you don't have anyone to share them with are you really happy?"
Back to what makes Elvis Presley: The Searcher a must see, is that it doesn't focus on what we already know of Elvis Presley. It focuses on the peripheral vision of Elvis' life. The moments and feeling that were still there, but were clouded by our fascination with the man.
The late 70's were not Elvis doing what Elvis wanted to do. There were so many clear signs of that. Sadly, these signs weren't transparent. Elvis still did shows. He still gave his best when he could. Though his depression was fighting him. Too many shows in too short of a timeline. Elvis turned to prescription drugs to help him survive another day. It was all he ever knew when faced with this situation. Tom Petty said it best and it still stabs my heart when I recall the words it: "At the end of his life, he was no longer Elvis Presley, he was just Elvis."
Whatever view you have on Elvis Presley. Whether you are an avid fan or just a casual listener. HBO's Elvis Presley: The Searcher will give you a greater understanding of music's most famous name. It will lead you down a path you never really thought about. Who was Elvis Presley? What did he stand for? What is it that makes him survive the ages of time. Hitting gold record status even 40 years after his departure from this world. A world fit for a King.