Elvis: That’s the Way It Is is a documentary about the Elvis Summer Festival at the International Hotel in Las Vegas in August 1970.
After years of watching Elvis Presley starring in narrative features, this film offered his fans a breath of fresh air. It’s a documentary that includes footage from rehearsals and six shows. But really, it’s a concert film especially with the changes made for 2001’s special edition. If you’ve never experienced any of his concert films, you can’t go wrong with this one. We’re watching the King in full command of his environment. When it comes to concerts, there’s the 1968 Comeback Special, Elvis on Tour, Aloha from Hawaii and Elvis in Concert. In any event, this is a solid documentary to take in after watching the film starring Austin Butler. Nothing against Austin’s Oscar-worthy performance, there’s nothing better than taking in the real deal.
Culver City rehearsals were filmed over the course of three days in July 1970. I never thought I’d see the day where I’d watch Elvis Presley covering The Beatles. Sure enough, he performs “Get Back” as part of a medley with “Little Sister.” Most of the film takes place at the International.
I don’t have any deep thoughts on the film itself. This is a more intimate setting compared to watching musicians going out on the road. You definitely see this when he’s singing “Love Me Tender.” How many boyfriends and husbands are getting jealous during that performance? That’s the sort of performance that you can only do in an intimate setting and certainly not during a stadium tour. At the same time, this is a concert film and it allows audiences to take in an Elvis Presley concert. For younger viewers such as myself, I relish any opportunity for this sort of experience.
There are two different cuts of the film. The one that I experienced was the 2001 Special Edition and originally premiered on TCM. It runs 12 minutes shorter than the original cut and mostly focuses on the singer himself. While many celebrities were in the original cut, this footage is excised in the special edition.
I didn’t grow up watching Elvis movies. Until very recently, the only films I had seen were some of the recent documentaries and biopics. Obviously, I grew up listening to his songs but when it came to movies, well, I was watching The Beatles in their films. Anyway, this summer is proving to be an enlightening experience so to speak. I only recently watched some of the footage shot for the 1968 special. In any event, I’m also taking advantage of the HBO Max offerings ahead of Monday’s TCM Summer Under The Stars marathon.
Elvis: That’s the Way It Is is a concert film and nothing more than that. If you’re expecting to learn anything new about him, you won’t find it here. But as far as films showing The King in his element, it doesn’t get much better than this.
DIRECTOR: Denis Sanders
FEATURING: Elvis Presley
MGM released Elvis: That’s the Way It Is November 11, 1970. Grade: 4/5
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