Feature: "Elvis On Tour"
Tue, 03 Aug 2010 09:10:04
Elvis On Tour is the best way to truly get close to the King.
The 1972 documentary primarily shows Elvis Presley where he was always meant to be—on stage. However, it goes a lot deeper.
Available on DVD and Blu Ray for the first time via Warner Bros. today (August 3, 2010), Elvis On Tour is an honest and heartfelt look at Presley during some of his most crucial moments before and after dates of a monumental 15-city tour. Elvis On Tour delves into this multi-faceted performer who's one and only goal was to put on the best show that anyone in the audience had ever witnessed, every night. It captures a vulnerable tenderness as Presley psychs himself up to hit the stage. At the same time, there's a reprieve where the King and friends sing gospel songs until sunrise. The documentary illustrates a man who was as crucial to music as music was to him; and it's a brilliant and beautiful experience on DVD and Blu Ray.
In honor of Warner Bros.' re-release of Elvis On Tour, Jerry Schilling, one of Presley's closest friends and a longtime music industry fixture, introduced the film at a special screening. He announced that Elvis was, "Still on tour." Watching the film, no statement could ring truer.
Jerry Schilling and Elvis On Tour researcher Andrew Solt [Director, Elvis: The Great Performances spoke to ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino in an exclusive interview about the movie, favorite memories of the King and more.
What does Elvis On Tour mean to you both after all of these years?
Andrew Solt: It's kind of a flashback to a period of our lives which, hard to believe, is actually 38 years ago. I was 24, and Jerry was 19. We became dear friends back then, and we've remained friends ever since. It was a group of young people starting out in the business in a very creative setting with a couple of producer/directors—Robert Abel and Pierre Adidge—who had gotten this picture. It was an amazing moment in our lives because we've made connections that have lasted. It was also a great moment in Elvis Presley's history; it was the last movie made while he was alive. Elvis On Tour was more of a window into the man and the performer than had ever been seen before. It's been a lot of fun talking about it and thinking about lately.
Jerry Schilling: It was also the start of Andrew producing some of the most important documentaries on Elvis Presley. He brought me in to work on those, and we got to work together from Elvis On Tour to This Is Elvis.
Andrew Solt: And Elvis: The Great Performances…When Jerry was running the Elvis Estate's creative department, he called me one day and said, "Is there anything else we could be doing with Elvis to make something new and different?" I said, "Sure!" We kicked around ideas, and Jerry said, "What if we took the greatest moments in his life existing on film or television and told his story?" We were very fortunate. We pitched it to Disney Home Video, and we got the support we needed from the Estate. It was really a very exciting project. On August 16th, Elvis: The Great Performances was first released twenty years ago, which is hard to believe [Laughs]. Years later, we made a third volume and Bono narrated that. We've had a good ride.
Jerry Schilling: Bono didn't charge us a penny! I tried to give him money [Laughs].
The footage of Elvis right before he hits the stage from Elvis On Tour is really poignant. His devotion to making every show memorable comes across, and that nervous energy is palpable.
Jerry Schilling: That's how it always was. What's really special is the filmmakers captured it on film. We were never open with Elvis like that, and there had never been an on-record time with Elvis Presley as insightful Elvis On Tour is. There's audio from Elvis talking about his life. We see what it's like before he goes on stage and after he gets off the stage. You see the producers with him in the rehearsal. That's a big part of the uniqueness.
Andrew Solt: It was a really Woodstock-influenced movie. There was a verite approach. There were 12 or more cameras on some of the concert shoots. There were cameras on Elvis on the time that were handheld. It was very reality-focused. There weren't the slick 35mm locked down cameras that had been on the Elvis That's the Way It Is shoot. It was a different approach; and it was really so insightful. The raw moments where Jerry is with Elvis back stage with all the guys around him, Elvis is getting ready like a boxer to go out there, perform and give it all. They knew how to get him ready, and they knew he was going into that zone. If you're never a little bit nervous before you go on, you aren't going to give a great show. You see that in the Elvis. He was a little nervous. He still cared so much, and it wasn't because the cameras were rolling, it was because he was a perfectionist. Once he gets out there, he gives his all. It's so intense and beautifully covered from so many angles. They did state-of-the-art multiple panels, again Woodstock-influenced, but it was taken forward about two or three years in the technology. There's a creative mix between Elvis, the band, the directing, the editing and everything. My job was to find the old stuff on Elvis and come up with a little bit of history. Some of the best things got thrown out [Laughs].
Jerry Schilling: One of the things that was tossed out was the Martin Scorsese montage of old pictures and such. [Elvis's Manager] The Colonel said, "Elvis doesn't want any old pictures." He was partly right because Elvis had said to the Colonel, "I don't want old pictures on new album covers." After the tour, I quit working for Elvis to go to work for these guys [on the film]. I'd go to Elvis's house and say, "Elvis, there was this guy who was editing Woodstock who made this montage, but Colonel said we couldn't use the old pictures." Elvis said, "I don't have any problem with that." I went back and told Robert and Pierre, and it went back in the film.
Andrew Solt: Jerry made the biggest difference. During the later stages of the film, the directors said, "If Elvis gave a point of view, it would elevate the whole film a few notches." Jerry set up some interview with Elvis at an odd place in the middle of the night under cloak-and-dagger. I don't think the Colonel knew too much about it.
Jerry Schilling: Robert and Pierre wanted to get an interview on-camera. That didn't happen. They suggested audio instead. I think the Colonel's attitude was, "Well, I'm not going to help you, but if you can get it…" So I was working with these guys everyday, and I went to Elvis about it. The Colonel was aware that it was going to happen. We did it at MGM, and it was the most important 40-something minutes on record of Elvis really saying how he felt about his career and Hollywood. I think one quote says it all. He goes, "You know, Hollywood never really got who I was. I don't think anybody was trying to hurt me, but it did hurt me." He said all the scripts were becoming the same and he didn't have approval.
The scene in Elvis On Tour where's he's singing gospel after the show is really telling. He just never stopped playing music. Were those moments especially poignant for you?
Jerry Schilling: They were our lifestyle. It wasn't a moment. It was how we lived. That's what we did on tour and in Vegas. It wasn't always just gospel music either. He'd start with rhythm and blues or country. What we have on film is gospel. If you had to pick a genre he did the most, I'd say it was gospel, but he did all kinds of music. It was whatever he was in the mood for.
How many modern artists would be singing after they played?
Jerry Schilling: How many artists in this day and age are Elvis Presley? [Laughs]
Check out an exclusive clip of the King below!
Also watch "Burning Love" from Elvis On Tour below!
What's your favorite Elvis song?