By Will “The Thrill” Viharo
“When I read a comic book, I was the hero of that comic book…”
-Elvis Presley, 1970
Spider-Man, Batman and Wonder Woman are all answering the heroic call to DVD duty this Summer, as reviewed elsewhere on RetroRadar.com. Although he wasn’t a comic book superhero, when Elvis showed up on the small screen in skintight black leather or a white, sequined jumpsuit, he might as well have been. The recently released ELVIS PRESLEY: ’68 COMEBACK SPECIAL and ELVIS: ALOHA FROM HAWAII Deluxe Editions (BMG) are major treasure troves for all the King’s men and women to plunder with pleasure for hours. (Comeback is seven hours on three discs, Aloha five hours on two!) Of course, you get both full-length broadcasts as they were originally aired, but you also get exhaustive unreleased takes, rare rehearsal footage and backstage screw-ups, especially generous in the epic Comeback set.
At the time this one was broadcast, in December of 1968, it was just called Elvis, sold as a Christmas special, more or less. But after eight years of soulless movie activity, The King obviously took the prime time opportunity to reclaim his rock ‘n’ roll crown. He does so in spades, as evidenced most dramatically in the sit-down jam sessions, where he is positively on fire, all savage rockabilly animal power, dripping sweat and bursting with charismatic electricity, ethereally handsome. The different versions of the show-closing anthem “If I Can Dream” were the biggest revelation – in all three takes, including a brand new “video montage” insinuating some footage of him lip-syncing the socially conscious song in his famous black leather suit, this is Elvis at his most emotionally raw and passionate, simply awe-inspiring.
The Aloha set offers us three versions of the January ‘73 Honolulu concert beamed around the globe: the full dress rehearsal, the actual broadcast version, and a brand new, re-edited, re-mastered and “definitive” version created from scratch, culled from the three sound cameras capturing the action during this historical performance, offering an intimacy and immediacy heretofore missing from the experience. Elvis is actually a bit subdued and stilted in the early going, sounding a bit nasal, obviously intimidated by playing to a billion-plus worldwide television audience, but once he broke out with “Steamroller Blues,” you knew who was still King, in all his beautiful, operatic, tragic and timeless glory, then, now and forever. TCB, baby.
Beatnik lounge lizard and writer Will “the Thrill” Viharo and his wife, Monica “the Tiki Goddess,” host a live cult movie cabaret called “Thrillville” at the Cerrito Speakeasy Theater in El Cerrito, CA, and elsewhere when they feel like it. Will also has a B-movie tiki lounge at home, where he watches his DVD collection while drinking homemade Mai Tais, which are rather strong may have influenced these reviews somewhat.