Elvis: That's the Way It Is (1970) Poster

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Yes, he was really THAT cool
Bill Slocum5 December 2003
Filmgoers were treated to two rockumentaries in 1970. The first, "Let It Be," shows the greatest rock n' roll band ever, The Beatles, struggling unsuccessfully to get out of its first and only decade of existence. The second, "That's The Way It Is," shows the greatest rock n' roll singer ever, Elvis Presley, entering his third decade of stardom lean, mean, and taking no prisoners.

The form of both is almost identical. You see rehearsal footage in a studio, some backstage chatter, and then a live performance before an enthused crowd. But while "Let It Be" is more interesting as a historical document than entertainment, "That's The Way It Is" is a powerful, galvanizing performance piece that stands up as well now as it did in 1970.

Even better than in 1970, many would say, because the version we have now is heavily re-edited, using unused footage from the original filming, mostly focused on Elvis, and discarding other bits showing interviews with fans. (You can see the seams, though, as many of the patched-in bits have a washed-out color scheme immediately apparent when contrasted with the vibrant Lucien Ballard photography of the original film.)

I'm not sure I like the idea of tampering with the record, but it's hard to bicker with results. The new "Way It Is" has a power and freshness that makes you feel the vitality of Elvis, who by 1970 was at least a half-step behind the fashion of the times but a better performer than ever. Since the film features Elvis in a series of Vegas shows (six filmed over three days in August, 1970, just seven years before his death) it's not unnatural to expect a bloated rhinestone-encrusted drug addict with velcro sideburns performing hokey schmaltz, as the myth perpetuated by his detractors would have it. But 1970 was a very good year for the King. He was not only in fine physical shape, he had matured into a vocalist who had married his awesome power with subtlety and finesse, and found his voice in a series of country-tinged rock songs that complemented him nicely even if they never achieved the pop status of his earlier hits. Songs like "Patch It Up," "Just Pretend," "Twenty Days And Twenty Nights" and "Tiger Man" (seen in a killer title sequence juxtaposed with Elvis's standard show-opener "Mystery Train") are thrilling, classic-sounding numbers not burdened today by overplay on oldies radio stations. Even his outfits were in surprisingly good taste for the period, at times even casual and comfortable-looking.

In rehearsal and on stage, Elvis works in his biggest hits of yore, which he seems almost embarrassed by and trots out almost perfunctorily, then throws in newer songs recorded by other artists, like the Bee Gees' "Words" and The Righteous Brothers "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," that he invests with real conviction and passion. He was a real artist, always moving forward, finding brilliance in the work of others, and believing in the power of song.

There are many highlights in this film. Elvis throws himself into each number he performs on stage like its his last moment on earth, even his older hits once he warms up to them. His "Love Me Tender" sends him into the audience for a lengthy series of kisses with delighted female audience members, and what blows you away is not so much the serial smooching but the way Elvis makes an effort to offer serious eye contact to everyone who approaches him, and thanks them sincerely when he returns to the safety of the stage. "Sorry I couldn't make it up there," he yells to the people in the balcony, and I think he meant it.

I especially appreciated the chance to see Elvis's interaction with his bandmates, a killer ensemble led by guitarist extraordinaire James Burton and drummer Ronnie Tutt, who was probably the only guy in 1970 who could have given Keith Moon a run for his money in a "Wipeout" faceoff. "The backbone of my whole show," he calls his musicians in a typical moment of humility. Elvis is also accompanied by the playful and vibrant Sweet Inspirations and the Imperials, male back-up singers who resemble Elvis impersonators before their time.

Elvis comes across as genuinely decent and sweet, but doesn't let you into his world too much. That's just as well when you get a load of his unctuous retinue, the Memphis Mafia, a squalid band of freeloaders and enablers who sped the King to his sordid doom. They giggle and interfere a bit, enough to remind you of the dark side of Elvis's celebrity, but in the end what you have is a prime slice of music greatness, the greatest vocalist of his day finding new power in his reinvention as rock's elder statesman and most accomplished showman, plowing through songs like "Polk Salad Annie" and "I Can't Stop Loving You" like he was plugged into God's private frequency.

I'd never say the Beatles were a shabby second to Elvis, but it's hard not to see them falling short in the rockumentary department. Elvis even delivers a better version of "Get Back" (though he seems to think the title is "Take It Back.") This is a film you will want to see at least once, just to get a sense of who Elvis was just before the money-changers moved into the temple and the man was hijacked by the legend.
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My husband almost had to throw a bucket of cold water on me
Rusty-616 March 2001
Sorry, but I'm not made of wood, people. I should probably mention right now as some sort of disclaimer that I'm going to do my best to focus on the details of the new Special Edition DVD here, but I was seriously distracted from technical details because Elvis looks so damn gorgeous and sexy in this footage. I'm not exaggerating, nor am I alone here. I've read at least 20 books about Elvis by those who were closest to him, and they all agree that he hit his peak around 69-70. By 68 he lost all the baby fat he had before and then some, was in the best shape of his life, tan, healthy, and confident. "Thin as a rake and more handsome than 10 movie stars" is the quote from a reporter that kept coming to my mind. Members of the Memphis Mafia said that around this time, they would frequently be looking for Elvis and find him admiring himself in the mirror and saying things like, "Damn, I'm one good-lookin' sonofagun!". Watching this movie, you definitely don't blame him one bit. I better just move on to the actual movie here before I start really embarrassing myself, but I think most people would agree that it's probably impossible for anyone to watch this and not see why Elvis caused women to completely lose control around him.

OK, anyway, where was I? Since this hasn't gone into wide release as of this writing, we were lucky to find a rental DVD copy a few days ago. I'd heard it was great, but expected maybe 1 or 2 new songs or alternate takes and 5 minutes more of rehearsal footage, plus a better picture/ sound quality. This is just like a second (better, I thought) version of the movie. Most of the footage of the fans that went on too long in the first version is gone. I have to admit that some of the original interviews with babbling fans loaded down with every type of Elvis souvenir (and it if it was wearable, wearing it all at once) probably helped cause the stereotype most people have of Elvis fans as lunatics. I've had people (usually, they were born after Elvis passed away) look at me like they way they would at a member of a cult dancing around in an airport when I mention that I'm a big Elvis fan. This version might make those people change their mind, or at the very least, see why Elvis has so many fans in the first place.

Instead of the insane fan interviews, there's plenty of rehearsal footage. Most of it is new, and amazing. It also reminded me strongly of the section of the 68 comeback special (and also "One Night With You") where Elvis jammed with his old band, just having fun. Again, I'm kind of fuzzy on the exact songs and the order they're in, ("Little Sister" was probably the best) but most of it is not in the 1970 version, including him talking to the Sweet Inspirations and joking with the band. The concert footage is amazing. Even though it's spliced together using the best of 6 different shows (not that I would have minded sitting through all of them) the performance is so energetic and intense that I can't believe that Elvis did his act twice a night, 7 days a week. Biographers say that Elvis actually requested not to have a day off because he was having so much fun when he first started playing Vegas, and it's obvious from watching this footage that he was having the time of his life. Most of the patter between songs is different, and so are some of his interactions with the audience. There's an extended version of "Suspicious Minds" that's even more impressive than the other one, using alternate takes (they leave out "I hope this suit don't tear up baby", and put in more of the type of dancing that, how do I put this politely, got him banned from the waist down in the 50's ). Just a complete show-stopper. You have to see it to believe it. And if you already thought Elvis was hot, you might want to have that bucket of cold water handy to pour over your head before you sit down to watch this.

Some of the extras include an extremely entertaining trailer that makes you want to watch the movie again immediately, and a pretty interesting "making of" documentary. Obviously, a lot of care and time was taken to produce this new version; this is not something they just slapped together at the last minute just to cash in on the popularity of special edition DVDs. Elvis fans, you have got to own this-or at least see it ASAP, at which point you'll want to buy a copy. I still haven't picked my jaw up off the floor. At some points when you're watching the movie, it's hard to believe he's gone. But it's not hard to believe he would have been very proud of this edition.
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Re-vamped 2001 edition is good...
gazzo-23 March 2001
They cleaned up the print and soundtrack, got ridda interviews with the Velvet Elvis fan-clubs(the types who claim their Cats listen to the King), the array of Sammy Davis Jr. types in attendence, and put in more lost footage of Elvis jamming/rehearsing in LA with the band. There is a version of 'Get Back' that has to be heard-it medleys into 'Little Sister' and works great.

As for the Hotel Casino concert that follows-it's great, of course. He trots out the expected hits-'Heartbreak Hotel', 'Can't Help Falling in Love', 'Suspicious Minds', etc. the last a highlight along with 'In the Ghetto' and 'Polk Salad Annie'.

He is great form, both vocally, in front of the audience and with the band. Enjoyable also is the interplay between Elvis and Hardin, Scheff and Burton, a primo guitarist if there ever was one. You can also see Cissy Houston(Whitney's mom) as one of the Sweet Inspirations backing him up.

Too often Elvis the musician, singer and regular guy-as reg as he could ever be-gets shoved aside by the nightmarish late period stereotype we all know and dread. This goes a good deal towards correcting that.

*** outta ****-good show.
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One of the best documentaries ever
Jerry Ables3 October 2001
I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate this film because of the way it showcases the King of Rock and Roll on stage in Vegas during what was very easily one of the best years of his career. It's in this film that we get to see him at his raw and energetic best. The footage from the backstage rehearsals only add to its tremendous entertainment value. If you're a fan of Elvis Presley and haven't seen this movie yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. You won't be disappointed in the very least.
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Elvis Presley is the best and he proves it here!
Joe-29031 December 2000
It was a heart - pounding, pulse racing, mind blowing, fast moving, breathtaking, exhilarating, overwhelming, thrilling and exciting, sensational and tremendous, wonderful and superb show with all the TCB band playing terrific along to the one and only great Elvis Presley. Elvis' 3rd Las Vegas season since he made his live concert comeback in 1969 a year after his TV comeback.

Candid footage of Elvis behind the scenes gets you closer to this really down to earth wonderful human being and this is the real Elvis looking his best. 7 years before he died and extremely thin and fit and powerful. Dominating the film this is a great show for all people and it is certainly something to watch if you want to learn something about The one true King - Elvis Presley.
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Unmissable Vegas Elvis. Both versions are a must-see, as they offer rather DIFFERENT CONTENT. 10/10. Spoilers.
lizziebeth-118 May 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Even if you're not an Elvis fan, you'll be one by the end of this concert movie. His greatest asset was his easy empathy through that marshmallow/high-octane voice; and he's described by Rick Schmidlin (restoration producer of the Sp.Edn.) as "Truly THE greatest vocalist of the 20thCentury". Candid rehearsals reveal Elvis as a charismatic band-leader, who could jam equally well on guitar, piano, AND as a vocalist.

Especially during the studio rehearsals, he's just the textbook definition of charisma: impish, soulful, commanding, nerdy, hyper, distracted, playful…..and mesmerizing. Elvis first awes his own guitarist John Wilkinson with Westlake/Most's How_The_Web_Was_Woven, solo at the piano, then deliberately falls off his piano-stool.

MGM filmed Elvis in August 1970 launching his 2nd year of live Vegas performances. Practising, he's adolescently naughty; by the 2nd/3rd day he gets rather phallic trying to "resurrect" his floppy mic, and inserts some salacious lyrics into Leiber/Stoller's The_Next_Step_Is_Love. He wears his chunky glasses upside down, and mocks the film director; yet he clearly took singing seriously, after a decade of career-killing Hal Wallis flicks. He often performs full-out during these rehearsals, managing to split his pants. This Elvis is 35, fit as an athlete and agile as a panther. He just "eats everything up".

There's none of his legendary temper, although he's always musically in charge. Instead, he mocks his "Memphis Mafia'"--some 9 bodyguards credited as "Technical Assistants"--for interfering with his ballroom rehearsal. Joe Esposito throws smoldering cigarette-butts at him, and a giggling cigarette fight ensues.

Surprisingly, he's got opening night jitters (a perfectionist, he suffered stage-fright his whole career). While he sweats through his shirt backstage, he cheekily reads congratulatory telegrams, including one from Tom Jones wishing him to "break both legs" (Elvis adapted Jones' 1969 stage moves to reinvent himself for Vegas, so they became friends). Another telegram supposedly reads "My God, why hath thou forsaken me?....signed, The Pope". Chuck-D of Public Enemy now calls this scene "a brief glimpse of the natural showman beneath the crass Vegas glitter".

The show portion is spliced together from 6 nights at the International Hotel.

In one classic scene, an overenthusiastic blonde leaps into his arms on stage. By Vegas, he'd learned to avoid being pulled into the crowd, yet maintained a compassion for his fans that no other performer knew how far to take. He takes impromptu walks through the audience, and dispenses real kisses, delighting everyone (one happy onlooker mouths "Look at that"). He even joke-threatens to kiss a hapless guy offering him only a handshake! Reportedly, he never let cameras stop him doing anything.

Throughout his "punk lounge"(Jerry Scheff) -period he continued performing his 1950s hits, but often gave them short shrift, preferring killer covers, or presenting heartbreaking love-gone-wrong songs best exemplified by the plaintive strings-and-oboe-driven I've_Lost_You, tragically only on the 1970 version @0:45mins. First performed at Vegas, a month later it charted to No.32.

Nervous at first, he tries anything/everything to distance himself from "performing": he psyches out the band ('Ready?....I'm not') and interjects "shove it up your nose" into Suspicious_Minds. During the intro to Love_Me_Tender, impishly planning his kissing-spree, he sings a self-mocking limerick in falsetto: "Toreadoro toreador, who dat was wi'choo onda floor'" He famously never performed a song the same way twice. As "stand-in band-leader'" he'd physically punctuate whatever musical element caught his attention on the night. His perfectly timed chest-action to Ronnie Tutt's drum-fills is just one high-point of many.

Elvis didn't so much perform, as communed with his music. His communing with audiences often took the form of monologues about his career. During one he claims this concert film will be called "Elvis Shakes Off His Excess". Having lost his shyness, he now couldn't be shut up.

Discipline and talent allowed him to take happy risks with his set-list. When he preempts the orchestra, snapping from All_Shook_Up into the correct tempo/key of You_Don't_Have_To Say_You_Love_Me, he's flying without a net. This necessitated that oft-quoted eye-contact with his band. He said he "liked to mix things up".

When he springs One_Night on the band while sipping yellow Gatorade (on CD he accused it of looking "used"), his lead guitarist hesitates, so Elvis prompts him: 'Tawdala-tawdala-tawdala--Remember?'. As they rip into the song, Elvis and the Sweet Inspirations start to-ing-and-fro-ing, the ladies yelling back between beats. Elvis reacts as if machine-gunned, admitting afterwards, "If we start doin' those, man, we'll be here all night"....We wish.

Sadly he may've been (ab)using uppers, and allegedly cocaine, by this time: one leg often hyper-beats his ballad tempos.

At times his self-distancing looks like self-parody....or boredom. His on-stage guitar technique is a rare low-point; and his virile Jonesesque, pumped-up delivery with feet planted wide might seem awkward to some--but his audiences weren't looking for polish. They wanted to connect with him in the moment, so a few flaws ultimately work for him.

The show is/was a phenomenal success, but there is one mistake. Near the end, after Elvis jackhammers Suspicious_Minds, and as he and his drummer explode in triumph, they're left in the dark by the lighting guy! NB: the 2 versions of E-TTWII offer rather different content. The Sp.Edn., while 0:13mins shorter than the original, still features extended rehearsal scenes, music credits, different on-the-night performances (Schmidlin's culling choices are sometimes dubious), and a different ending to the cigarette fight (the 1970 version reveals Elvis had set some of his 'Mafia' on fire).

Watch both versions to enjoy him as he really was. So real that it hurts. Elvis died exactly 7yrs later (8/16/1977) in "privacy" in his own bathroom, with a houseful of oblivious minders.

E-TTWII(1970/2001) is the very best of Elvis concert-films; testimony to the fact that he Never_Lost_That_Lovin'_Feeling.(10/10).
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ELVIS: THAT'S THE WAY IT IS {2001 Re-Edited Version} (Denis Sanders, 1970) ***
MARIO GAUCI6 September 2007
The original theatrical version was drastically re-edited in 2001 to make Elvis' stage performance the core of the show, thus removing all interview footage of the crowd before the concert, etc. Also given its due importance is the various rehearsal sessions which show Elvis goofing off on occasion but clearly knowing what he wants and in complete control of the proceedings. Indeed, Elvis is in great shape – both vocally and physically – and in great spirits, too and the fact that he had been missing live performances during a self-imposed hiatus (a direct result of his lengthy Hollywood sojourn) is palpable. Rather ironically perhaps, among the crowd of admirers one can glimpse such Hollywood celebrities as the already retired Cary Gramt, Sammy Davis. Jr., George Hamilton and ex-Elvis co-star Juliet Prowse!

Presley clearly wanted this film to be done right because he engaged the services of a respectable director (Denis Sanders) and a great director of photography (Lucien Ballard). Personally, I found "Suspicious Minds" to be the standout performance in the concert but all the songs he performed were good ones – including some pretty obscure current titles like "Patch It Up" – and it was refreshing to see the old "rock'n'roll" era standards being "thrown away" in a tongue-in-cheek manner by The King one right after another. His handling of the occasional cover – "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" and "Words" – was also quite impeccable.

After a three-week long Elvis marathon, this is undoubtedly the best way to remember him because, watching him here, one really appreciates why the man was so loved when he was alive and why he is still so revered, missed and imitated 30 years after his death...
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Acclaimed documentary of Elvis in Vegas.
Michael O'Keefe4 April 2000
Denis Sanders garnered high honors for directing this somewhat candid view of Elvis Presley at work and play, preparing for his summer 1970 stint in Las Vegas. Elvis at this time was still in his return to splendor. Looking fit and a fine specimen of singing, sex machine. Not yet feeling the passion for the real gaudy, sparkling costumes. Relaxed, but nervous; Presley plays and clowns for the camera. A lot of hard work and rehearsing culminates into a high energy performance on stage. Captured on film is just a portion of what made Elvis one of the world's most admired and beloved entertainers.
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Fascinating and memorable - even for general music fans.
Peter Hayes8 January 2007
Elvis rehearses/jokes with his pickup band and then hits the low rise super club stage in Las Vegas. This review refers to the re-cut version (a big improvement), although I have seen both.

Since America revoked its monarchist past and went republican they have had only one "King." Rightly put there by popular demand rather than by being born in the right bed. Maybe the only democratically elected king of all time!

It would be foolish to try and summate the man, but chew on this - he made more people dip in to their pocket and pay for his recordings/products/museum and home than any other artist in the history the world. No critic, however skilled, can take that away from him.

(That is not to agree with some of them that his films were bad and at times so camp that only a dyed-in-the-wool fan could sit through them.)

In reply to other reviews - Elvis's weight yo-yoed throughout his life. Between movies/tours he blow up and he went on crash diets aided by more of those strange pills. Here - in 1970 - he looks slim enough and young enough to be of sexual interest to any woman of any age (although the surgeons knife had already helped), although good natured and warm he never looks "straight" for a second.

The early rehearsals are worthwhile in that he knows what he wants, although his guitar doesn't seen to switched on (although it is plugged in). He is backed by talented musicians, but they are still - when all is said and done - only session men. Capable of playing anything, but probably couldn't come up with a song of their own. The musical 9 to 5'er. Not that anybody could take the limelight away from the king.

(The backing singers are too many in number and could almost take the gig over if Elvis passed out on stage.)

The audience is older too - some middle-aged - with lots of collars and ties. In the main, the usual Vegas mug punter minus their cup of dimes. The place didn't really have the resident population it has now. The theatre is large and the seats well padded - but would you really want to eat a full meal before Elvis? I couldn't or wouldn't. He even play two shows a night - two shows! Amazing really.

The tunes are well known and all inclusive - from his early hits (cut short) to the hit pop songs of the day. Even Bridge Over Troubled Water. They play - on film - better than you might think because Elvis made every tune his own: although he was a strange singer, ad-libbing and often stopping to kiss the girls and take gifts. A moment to remember all your life for those on the receiving end - tedious to us watching. Never mind the diseases you can pick up from sticking your tongue (and he is clearly is!) down the throat of a complete stranger. Even in 1970!

You can't live your life like Elvis did and live long. Food, drugs and hangers-on were soon to get the better of the guy and he lay in his grave at the age of 42. A stupid age to leave, but the product of stupid living. "No one said 'no" to Elvis", said wife Priscilla once. I couldn't say "no" to walking down a time tunnel and seeing all this in the flesh myself - even if it did cost an arm and a leg.
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There is only one Elvis......
rbrb31 January 2010
Make no mistake this film is compelling.

It is a documentary.

Set in 1970 with Elvis preparing for his forthcoming Los Vegas shows. There can be no doubt that he is one of the most sexually appealing and charismatic performers in history.

Elvis is an Icon and what impresses me is that he had so much talent and that is revealed in this movie.Talented too are the band and backing singers and the others who aided his performances.

The sexual chemistry which connected him to his fans is unparalleled in show business history and this movie shows why.

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