Long, Laudatory Look at The King

???????????????????As if to save him from the knick-knack shelf of American kitsch, the lengthy “Elvis Presley: The Searcher” (HBO, 8 p.m.) spends three and a half hours celebrating the musical achievements of the King, while scraping up some rare audio.

Some are Elvis interviews – he talks haunting of his first car, which burnt up the first night — but most are choice cuts of his career rescued from obscurity (a tossed off version of Dylan’s “Tomorrow is Such a Long Time” keeps returning). And you may never look at “Crawfish” the same way again.

The producer Jon Landau once wrote a then-surprising appreciation, “In Praise of Elvis Presley” for Rolling Stone in 1971 and this lavish project, which he produced and is featured in frequently by voice, is essentially the filmed fleshing out of that. You almost wouldn’t think Elvis had a movie career from the focus on music (until part two, which follows immediately after).

It’s fun to also hear the voices of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty among those musing on the star who was bigger than either of them and all that he accomplished. And while these voices are heard, none of the interview subjects — who also include Priscilla Presley, who was also heavily involved — are ever seen.

Director Tom Zimny keeps the focus either on vintage clips or newly filmed, lovingly shots crawling over every inch of Graceland.

The framing device is what is now known as the 1968 Comeback TV special, which seemed to distill all what was great in Elvis and all he’d want to still accomplish all in one hour. Again and again, it keeps returning to its strong performances, as well as its outtakes and rehearsals. And in closing, as he did in the special, he turns to  a song of urgent hope, originally performed days after Robert Kennedy was assassinated, and nearly as stirring today amid these awful days of disillusion half a century later.

 

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