Sunday, September 23, 2012

Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite Deluxe DVD, Disc 1

One of the purchases I made at Graceland during my trip last month was the new deluxe DVD set of the Aloha from Hawaii special recorded in January of 1973. It's a two-disc set that includes a short video of Elvis arriving in Hawaii via helicopter on January 9 and being greeted by fans and Hawaiian performers, a rehearsal concert from January 12, and the Aloha concert as it was broadcast around the world on January 14 on Disc 1 and then the post-concert "insert" songs session from January 14 for the U.S. broadcast, which didn't air until April 4, 1973, and the U.S. version of the broadcast on Disc 2. Thus far I have only watched Disc 1 in its entirety, but I wanted to get down some notes before I forgot what I wanted to say.

Elvis Arrives and Greets Fans:
This film shows that Elvis still has a faithful following and that people will still try their hardest to touch him, to get a piece of him. A lot of younger fans greet him, people who were probably children when he got started in the 1950s, and there are also children present. The diversity of the fans shows Elvis's universal appeal and sows the seed for the longevity of Elvis's popularity. Not that his fans in the 1950s weren't faithful, but the fact that he is still attracting new fans almost 20 years after starting his career while retaining the original ones is a powerful statement. (Of course, I think about the enduring legacy of Elvis's music and personality a lot, being a fan who became a fan after he passed away.)

It is also interesting to watch Elvis's interaction with his fans in this video. He seems a little out of it, or perhaps just apprehensive, when he arrives. He kind of gazes around at the crowd, but looks kind of bewildered. Is it jet lag? Is it drug-induced? Is he just worried/scared? It's hard to know without getting inside his head or being privy to the events of the day. He does seem somewhat afraid of the fans. He goes over to greet them, and does shake some of their hands, but their aggressive attempts to touch him and even grab him makes him reluctant to get too close, understandably. You wonder if he became more cautious with time, after having experienced so many "maulings" by fans since the '50s. Overall, it's just a strange interaction between a shy, reluctant man and his screaming fans.

Rehearsal Concert:
I have to disagree with the author of the liner notes, Dave Marsh's, assessment of the rehearsal concert. Marsh writes,

The best version of these songs, though, comes from the night before, the "rehearsal show," where Elvis looks lean, acts loose and lets go musically as he rarely did. ... It's a shame it has taken so long for this show to find its public, because there isn't a better record, in video, film or audio, of what Elvis did once he'd standardized the '70s show and began touring with it regularly. Elvis radiates healthiness, but more important, he sings fabulously, and the ritual he and the audience enact has a depth of feeling on both sides. The main ritual though is the byplay between Elvis and the musicians, who are clearly having a ball, especially at the beginning where there are ample opportunities for Burton to tear off with many of the rock 'n' roll riffs he helped invent.

I will concede that Elvis looked good in this performance - the bloated look of the later years was not present here. That's where our agreement ends. It's not that this show is bad, but Elvis is clearly holding back because it's just a rehearsal, not the worldwide broadcast. He forgets most of the words of "Burning Love" and just keeps singing the same verse over and over. I would have thought this would have been one of the easier songs for him to remember, since he had just recorded it in 1972. He kind of breezes through the old standards, like "Love Me" and "Hound Dog." He really only puts energy into songs that are meaningful to him, like "You Gave Me a Mountain," "I'll Remember You," and "An American Trilogy." The concert does improve as it gets going, but all in all, I wouldn't say that this was an outstanding performance. The audience is certainly enthusiastic, probably because many of them were likely seeing him for the first time, unless they were wealthy enough to get onto the mainland to see some of his Vegas shows or other tours. He does the usual scarf-throwing and kissing during the show, but the electricity that I love about Elvis and that was present in some of the other concert videos (namely the '68 comeback and That's the Way It Is) is not present here. One nice moment is when Elvis tells the audience that they helped raise $75,000 for the Kui Lee Cancer Fund and he expresses his appreciation. Kui Lee was the Hawaiian composer who wrote "I'll Remember You" and died of cancer at age 33.

Elvis, Aloha from Hawaii Concert:
The actual concert is executed better than the rehearsal, but it does not carry the same level of energy as the aforementioned '68 special or That's the Way It Is. Again, the strongest performances are of the more meaningful songs, though the audience clearly enjoys everything. I think some of Elvis's reserve may have come from nerves, knowing that this concert was being broadcast to Australia, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, The Philippines, South Vietnam, and other countries. It was then seen on a delayed basis in approximately 30 European countries shortly after. According to the Deluxe DVD notes, "In all, it was seen in about forty countries by 1-to-1.5 billion people. A global smash. Entertainment events presented live via satellite are common today, but in 1973, this was a first. Never before had one performer held the world's attention in such a way."

To me, the concert is worth viewing if, like me, you want to see every video ever made of Elvis, and/or if you want to see one of his many history-making performances. It is also interesting to see what the rest of the world saw (which I will compare to the U.S. broadcast version in another post). Like the rehearsal, Elvis does warm up as the concert goes on and he becomes more comfortable. Many Elvis documentaries use the performance of "An American Trilogy" as their choice clip from this special, and it is one of his strongest performances in this concert. The emotion and soul that made Elvis's performances so memorable come through in this song.

Overall, this DVD is a great addition to the Elvis archive, but it is not one that I am sure to watch over and over again in its entirety. Thanks to the DVD menu, I'll be able to re-watch the best songs over and over, but I cannot imagine that this DVD will get as much repeat-play as some of my other Elvis DVDs. I hate to be unenthusiastic about anything Elvis did, but the rehearsal concert and worldwide broadcast just did not grab me like his other performances. I was very excited to get this special edition DVD to find gems that I hadn't seen before, but it ended up coming up a little short.

More to come when I watch Disc 2.


Blofeld's Cat said...

I went back to listen to the rehearsal show to make sure I wasn't misremembering something...

I like Dave Marsh, I have read him over the years,I respect him as a music critic, I oftentimes agree with his opinions, I even have at least one his books on my shelves (THE HEART OF ROCK & SOUL: THE 1001 GREATEST SINGLES EVER MADE).

So while I do have an appreciation for Marsh's critical acumen, his book about Elvis (published in the 1980s?) was decidedly non-essential. I read it once and never felt a desire to reread it (by contrast, I have reread Albert Goldman's notorious tome about Elvis a few times). As unmemorable as Marsh's book is, I am sure I would remember if the book included any opinion so egregiously misguided as the one Maile describes as being attributed to Marsh on the DVD liner notes about the Aloha rehearsal show. Regarding this rehearsal show, Marsh is out of his mind.

My recent listen to the Aloha rehearsal show (re)confirmed what I have always felt about the rehearsal show and even the main show: this is not Elvis' finest moment, performance-wise. No sir, not by a long shot.

Dont get me wrong, Elvis looks spectacular during these shows. Absolutely magnificent. My god, what gorgeous man. And that outfit with the American eagle - this was an even more stunning appearance than even the leather outfit from the '68 special. No one else, NO ONE, could wear such an outfit and make it work, make it So yes, Elvis was suitable-for-framing during these shows.

But the performances? Weak, really weak. There is no energy to anything he does. Just listen to the "Steamroller Blues" - it drags. He might be technically proficient during these shows, hitting the high notes on "An American Trilogy" or "You Gave Me A Mountain", but there is no spark here. Elvis seems constrained by the script of the show, that is, he knows he has to keep this show on schedule, so he is always watching the clock. I dont recall any differences between the rehearsal show and the main show. Like, nothing. It is the same exact show. Every song, in the same order. Everything is right on schedule.

Hearing the show is one thing, but watching it is even more painful - Elvis just kind of walks to and fro, back and forth, one side of the stage to the other, maybe shakes a leg here or there, but, again, he can't rouse himself and just cut loose. He is professional, business-like, boring.

One thing in particular I remember about the main broadcast was that, in an effort to manufacture excitement during the performance, the editing was overly frantic: there would be a million cuts from one camera angle to another to another to another as if something exciting was happening, but all these camera were just focusing Elvis standing still during a song. And always in long shot. So the viewer gets an epileptic seizure trying to watch this guy standing still.

Conceptually, the Aloha show, via satellite (in 1973!), is pretty impressive. You gotta hand it to the Colonel and his knack for carny showmanship.

But Elvis? Eh.

Blofeld's Cat said...

And did I read this right (elsewhere) - the footage of Elvis arriving by helicopter and greeting fans lasts 16 MINUTES?!?

Maile Duval said...

Yes, that's about right, 16 minutes or so. If it were anyone but Elvis, I wouldn't have watched the whole thing.