I’ve only just asked for screener access to Thom Zimny and Priscilla Presley‘s Elvis Presley: The Searcher (HBO, 4.14). In the interim here are excerpts from Jon Pareles’ N.Y. Times review: “There are no fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Nor is there a television with a bullet hole in its screen. Drugs, an unavoidable topic, are mentioned in sympathetic tones as an overworked performer’s self-medication.
“A two-part, three-hour documentary that begins airing Saturday on HBO, Elvis Presley: The Searcher strives to rescue the Presley story from its tabloid side. Instead, it presents a biography of an artist and musician who was both spectacularly gifted and unconscionably misdirected. Guided by his own ideas and instincts, he transformed 20th-century culture in the 1950s. But afterward, treated by his manager as a commercial workhorse, he spent years making trivial movies and performing as a nostalgia act.
“[The doc] can’t escape the familiarity of its story. But it focuses, with purposeful tunnel vision, on Presley as a musician and performer. The first half lingers in the glory years of the 1950s, reconstructing how the young Elvis absorbed and studied all the music and showmanship he could: country, blues, pop crooners and both black and white gospel, with rousing vintage footage of singers including a sweaty, ferocious Howlin’ Wolf and a gospel workout from the Reverend Archie Dennis Jr.
“It also presents Presley’s relationship to African-American music as one of affinity and appreciation, not exploitation.
Bruce Springsteen: “Elvis’s music pointed to black culture and said, ‘This is filled with the force of life…if you want to be an American, this is something you need to pay attention to.”
“He wiggled his legs, hips and shoulders, too — onstage and then on television — inciting screams among young women and a moral panic in the older generation.
“Then he was drafted and sent overseas, his pompadour clipped. He had signed a management contract with the documentary’s villain: Colonel Tom Parker, who was only an honorary colonel and not an American citizen (he was Dutch), which resulted in Presley never touring internationally. When Presley came back from the army, the Colonel envisioned a conventionally grown-up career for him: pop singing (a TV special with Frank Sinatra), movies, merchandise. The rock revolutionary was supposed to fall into line as an entertainer.
“Sadly, he did.”