Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Music DVD Review: Elvis Presley: The Ed Sullivan Shows: The Classic Performances

Now Available to Own on DVD

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Although originally he'd vowed never to invite the man he would eventually describe as a "decent and fine boy" on his popular television show-- when rival host Steve Allen beat Ed Sullivan's ratings with the debut appearance of Elvis Presley on Allen's variety series-- eventually Ed Sullivan caved.

And sure enough the paperwork was completed in the summer of 1956 as Sullivan signed Presley to the tune of fifty thousand dollars to appear for three exclusive performances on The Ed Sullivan Show.

However, tragically a horrific head-on collision found Sullivan ordered to miss five weeks of hosting duties as friends filled in guest-hosting the show while he was convalescing following the car crash. Sadly, much to his disappointment-- (and regardless of the fact that he'd be there for the subsequent two appearances)-- ultimately the host ended up making television history as one of more than 72 million viewers who tuned in when Charles Laughton introduced the the young and relatively new singer to the world.

Seeing the shy, polite Southern country boy in his record-breaking premiere on September 9, 1956
make this newly released DVD that much more compelling since it offers us a chance to look back at the icon before he went into the army and met the teenager who later became his wife, before he went Hollywood and long before the pressures of being "The King" began to affect him.

Likewise, it's a fascinating opportunity to witness the way that Elvis Presley began working on his stage persona. Since, even when delivering a hit like "Love Me" where he appears to forget the words twice and/or gets lost in the crowd we can hear him experiment with different vocal approaches including some that would become his signature and others that as a fan of the music, I had never heard before.

Additionally you must b
ear in mind that this was during the controversial era of religious outcry over Elvis and the music he sang. For on the DVD, it's quickly visible that every so often he becomes overwhelmed by the magnitude of the experience given what sounds like a few slurred words, melodic mix-ups (wherein he puts a finger to his ear to adjust his tone) and a strange stab at a humorous ironic lead in to "Hound Dog" as a sad song that baffles even his band.

However, the little quirks make him that much more endearing as viewers simply couldn't care less. Moreover, even now in 2009, it's easy to be utterly drawn in by what is arguably the greatest entertainer of all time performing for millions in his prime. Beautiful, nervous, and consciously provocative with the abundance of hip gyrations-- even though Sullivan's studio gave him a dull music note background, your eyes only focus directly on the man himself.

And fortunately, Presley's confidence in front of a live television audience would increase with not just their ecstatic screams but each successive appearance-- whether he was actively helping to support the Hungarian relief effort for which he performs a moving rendition of "Peace in the Valley" or celebrating his [then] biggest record with rocking performance of "Don't Be Cruel."

Indeed, by the time the third appearance of Presley's occurred, he was so relaxed that the hip thrusts had gotten him in trouble to the point wherein the undeniably soulful, sexy singer was filmed from the waist up to avoid public outcry.

While a majority of entertainers today would've taken that as their cue to try and shock even more as the mainstream media seems to prefer behavior that can be considered salacious over actual substance, Presley was unflappable under what must have been the most appalling scrutiny and judgment. Instead, filled with kindness-- after of course, letting it rip in his usual level of rock 'n roll-- when Presley took Sullivan's stage during the holiday season, he addressed his viewers as "friends," politely thanking them in a way that seemed both genuine and truly humble.

Given the age of the footage, it's not the cleanest presentation imaginable with visible dirt and grain but it's a true find to see the Sullivan appearances back to back to back. And while on paper in the press release or on the back of the box, the bonus features seem as though they're going to offer some truly mind-blowing footage for devotees of the King to accompany the forty-seven minute disc, unfortunately the promos for the appearances are extremely dull, the remembrance interview footage is dated and the special moments and home movies feel very familiar.

However, the one very brief treasure included on the disc is the very first recorded video footage of Presley. Captured
near Houston, Texas by a young couple testing out their brand new 8mm video camera-- the historical artifact presents us with the man before he'd been discovered let alone signed by Colonel Tom Parker. Featuring an upbeat and impossibly young, casual looking Elvis Presley performing at a local, disorganized outdoor gig-- it's the one extra that you should jump to before the rest in this slight yet otherwise fan-friendly DVD.

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