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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Elvis '56
Elvis '56
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Review by Chris Hughes | posted March 14, 2000 | E-mail the Author
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Features: Full Screen (Standard) - 1.33:1. Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo). Songs Include: My Way, Baby What You Want Me To Do, Blue Suede Shoes, Good Rockin' Tonight, Heartbreak Hotel, Shake Rattle and Roll, Baby Let's Play House, Tutti Frutti, My Baby Left Me, Blue Moon, Hound Dog, He's Only a Prayer Away, Lawdy Miss Clawdy, Don't Be Cruel, Trying To Get to You, Anyway You Want Me, Ready Teddy, Love Me Tender, Peace in the Valley, Love Me. Narrated by Levon Helm.

The Movie:
As a 35 year old the Elvis I remember was the bloated, white-leather clad one whose shaggy sideburns, sweaty brow and gold rimmed glasses made him look more like a clown than a rock star to me. It wasn't until after his death when I developed an interest in the bass guitar and became a musician myself that I discovered a very different Elvis: a slim man in a gray suit, gifted with an amazing voice and projecting a humble, down-home public image. Elvis, on the cusp of stardom, before the Army, before the drugs and before the Colonel was performer of singular talent who help shaped the development of rock and roll. By crossing racial barriers by playing songs, which until that point had been the exclusive domain of black rhythm and blues musicians, Elvis opened the minds of an entire generation and influenced almost every subsequent rock musician. His most notable disciples were four young men from Liverpool who would later be known as The Beatles.

Elvis '56 is an interesting if lightweight documentary about the year in which a country boy became the King of Rock and Roll. By '56 Elvis was more than an up and comer but hadn't yet hit his stride. He was working hard though and making as many public appearances as were humanly possible. This documentary is made up of various television performances from such programs as the Milton Berle, Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan shows accompanied by Levon Helm's narration. Songs include such classics as Good Rockin' Tonight, Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog and Love Me Tender.

The Picture:
The images on this disc are a mish mash of stills, film and video that are surprisingly well preserved. The black and white transfer is very clean and exhibits good contrast, deep black levels and respectable shadow detail. The disc isn't anamorphic but that's to be expected with this kind of material.

The Sound:
Sound is critical in any music-oriented disc and I was pleased with its presentation on Elvis '56. The disc is recorded in Dolby 2.0 stereo but most of the source elements were recorded in mono. Be that as it may the dynamic range is quite broad and the tracks are substantially free from hiss, pops and dropouts. My only gripe with the sound track is that the producers chose to record narration over many of the songs rather than letting them stand on their own merit.

The Extras:
Elvis '56 is a 'movie only' disc with no extras of any kind. There are chapter stops for each song but the intrusive narration makes this feature less attractive than it could have been.

Conclusion:
To me, the most interesting period in any artist's life is that in which he or she is struggling to find a defining style. This formative time often yields some of the most engaging and unforgettable work. Elvis '56 is a study in that phenomenon which should appeal to fans of the King. The lack of extras, shallow nature of the documentary and songs marred by narration force me to recommend a marginal 'rent it' but hardcore Elvis devotees won't feel cheated if they buy it sight unseen.
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