Elvis: That's the Way It Is (2001 version)
The ultimate Vegas-era Elvis documentary, focused and well-edited
repetitive, not for those who dislike Elvis
The Bottom Line:
This film is highly recommended, especially for Elvis Presley fans, music history scholars, and anyone interested in film editing.
The career of Elvis Presley declined during the mid-1960s, as a series of bad movies (and their soundtracks) took their toll. He made a comeback beginning with a 1968 television production, followed by a successful series of sold-out gigs in Las Vegas.
Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis' manager, hoped to capitalize on his client's newfound popularity with a closed-circuit television broadcast, as was then done with important heavyweight boxing matches. This evolved into the less ambitious plan of a documentary feature film.
An enormous amount of footage was filmed, including several rehearsals and six entire Las Vegas concerts. However, the resulting edited-down film had its problems. The focus should have been completely on Elvis, his band, and their performances. But there was in addition many extraneous interviews with fans, attendees, and Las Vegas moguls, all of which were gushing with praise for Elvis. Such propaganda was unnecessary, since Elvis could speak for himself through his music.
Recently, Rick Schmidlin served as producer to a new version of the film. It was completely re-edited, with the interviews excised and more concert and rehearsal footage included. As a result, we hear Elvis rather than hear about him, and he is rarely off-screen. This makes for a great improvement over the original documentary. And if you still don't get enough of Elvis during the film, it is followed by a series of music videos that are outtakes from the August 1970 concerts.
The film is broken into two stages, the rehearsals and the concert. We get a feel for Elvis' personality during the rehearsals, as he jokes with his 'core' band that consists of guitarists James Burton and John Wilkerson, bass player Jerry Scheff, drummer Ronnie Tutt and pianist Glen D. Hardin.
Elvis shows considerable nervous energy as well as a need for an audience. The viewer gets a feel for the great preparations that went into the Vegas shows, with Elvis perfecting the arrangements. Everyone seems to be having a great time, especially when the setting is less formal. The songs themselves rarely touch on Elvis' early career ("Hound Dog" is an exception) concentrating on newer recordings and then-contemporary hits by other artists ("Sweet Caroline").
The mood is exuberant in a backstage party after the show. Sammy Davis Jr. and Cary Grant have crashed the party, where they take turns telling Elvis how great he was.
As the 1970s progressed, the health of Elvis declined due to a poor diet and an addiction to prescription pills. He also seemed to fall into a career rut, with reduced interest in new recordings while touring primarily as an oldies act. He became a parody of himself, which is primarily how he is seen today. However, That's the Way it is shows Elvis as he was still during his prime, as a great singer and entertainer. (76/100)