Botch of an important job
Harley P. Payette | Phillipsburg, New Jersey United States | 01/09/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"With 33 movies, nearly 20 TV appearances and who knows how much unseen footage you wouldn't think compiling a decent video collection of Elvis' greatest hits would be difficult. Yet somehow they've messed it up.The music here may be generally five star quality but that's about the only thing that is. To start with, both this and its companion volume Center Stage are criminally brief clocking in at under an hour each. A lot more quality clips could have been fit on both tapes.The clips the compilers have chosen though are sharp. However, the way they are presented is absolutely atrocious. The narration is dull and unenlightening. Too much space is taken up by incidental background music while George Klein states mind numbing platitudes. ("Elvis generally didn't like to hang out with the celebrity set but when he did he enjoyed the company of other performers." "Many fans were surprised to see Elvis make his first appearance after the army on a Frank Sinatra TV show.")This is done at the expense of providing context for a lot of the clips like the opening "American Trilogy". We learn nothing we didn't already know from this video. This is not even to mention the worst facet of the narration which is Klein's tendency to babble over the music as he does on the intro of "If I Can Dream" and the middle of "Got O' Lot O' Livin' to Do". (Wouldn't it have been possible to point out Elvis' mother before the song?)The presentation of the clips themselves is incredibly flat. One minute we're locked in with some still pictures and the dull narration then comes the clip. Many of the clips are started a few seconds late thus diminishing their power. Worse several of the clips are truncated. This is most devastating on "Mean Woman Blues" from "Loving You" where some of Elvis' best moves are cut. (In Center Stage the entire middle section of "Jailhouse Rock" is omitted.)They are short songs already; there's no need to cut them especially in a 55 minute video.There's worse. All of the clips from Elvis' movies are overdubbed with the official recorded release. I know this was done to allow for the best musical quality but it gives the impression of inauthenticity. Worse than that though some clips are marred by senseless overdubs like the handclaps on "Return to Sender".That said, this is still the best we've got. There's some great music on here and Elvis was definitely a gifted visual performer. For collectors the only rarities are the gorgeous light falsetto performance of "Fame and Fortune" from the Sinatra and "Blue Suede Shoes" from his first Milton Berle show. Both of these though are just terrific. The Berle show is especially neat in that we get to see Elvis' band, especially Bill Black, echo his coolness and showmanship. They're rock's first hipsters. A lot of the other stuff is also essential like "Treat Me Nice", "If I Can Dream", "Always on My Mind" and "Mean Woman Blues" although it is available elsewhere in a superior presentation. Still if you don't have the dough to fork out for all those videos this is the most effective one stop shopping you'll find at this time.If you can pick this up with Center Stage and the VH1 Documentary "From the Waist Up" in the box at a bargain price do it. At least you'll have a start at compiling a coherent Elvis collection with those three together. Until somebody wakes up and assembles a good career video retrospective, you'll have to settle for that."