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Elvis Presley: The Searcher


Between HBO and Netflix, I feel like there are more terrific documentaries available now, than at any time in my life. It's always fascinating to watch a great doc about a subject you don't know much about. For me, ELVIS PRESLEY: THE SEARCHER is a great example.

HBO's two-part, three and a half hour dive into the history of all things Elvis is a fascinating take on his life from its very beginnings to his lonely death in 1977.

I certainly know of Elvis, am casually aware of some of his catalogue, but only own his Christmas albums. I tend to remember the big, bloated Elvis in the sparkled onesies that seemed to dominate Vegas kitsch in my teen years, but have never been a huge fan.

I had never seen an Elvis movie until a few weeks ago when I watched "Viva Las Vegas" after seeing this doc.

After being immersed in his history, hours of video clips of him from his earliest days and watching the important role he played in American music, I have a whole new respect for his legacy.

Innocent, naive and trusting, Elvis was certainly taken advantage of by Colonel Parker, who doesn't emerge well in the light of history. The arc from his first recording to his final performance is quite a trip.

Positioning his HUGE TV special as a tipping point in his career is a great choice by the filmmakers, reeling you in to the importance of this live TV event.

Musicians like Bruce Springsteen and the late Tom Petty offer powerful, intelligent interviews that are parsed out through the film, often serving up unique and smart perspective on Elvis' place in the evolution of rock and roll.

Graceland emerges as a gaudy, comfortable fortress of solitude for Presley, a respite from the road and his fame.

Priscilla Presley is a constant presence in both archival clips of their early relationship and marriage, and her insightful narration about her husband and friend for many years.

Long and immersive but never boring, it's loaded with stars, from Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan to Harrison, McCartney and Lennon.

Thom Zinny, who recently directed "Springsteen on Broadway" crafts a tribute to Presley that balances the highs and lows of an amazing career.

Having never seen an Elvis movie before this doc, I assumed they were all silly, low budget comedies. It was especially revelatory to watch clips of Elvis' performances in "King Creole" and his early films that offered more dramatic roles before Col. Parker and his label forced him into formulaic rock and roll comedies that he grew to hate. He often turned out two films a year to fulfill contractual obligations to the studio, despising them and beginning a downward spiral that would drive him back to making gospel records in the middle of the British invasion and the free love spirit of the late 60's.

Fascinating and enjoyable, THE SEARCHER is Elvis 101 for any non-fans like me. It made me want to see more of those early films with a new appreciation for who Presley really desired to be, versus who fame made him.

As Springsteen says in the film, "An artist like Elvis is, rather than pretending when he goes out on the stage, he's actually pretending when he's home to be normal. And when he goes out on stage at night, that's who he actually is."

ELVIS PRESLEY: THE SEARCHER croons enjoyably to a B.

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