In one of the deleted scenes found on the “Pulp Fiction” DVD, Mia asks Vincent Vega a series of questions sorting out his “types”, pop culture-wise, like “If you were Archie, who would you fuck first, Betty or Veronica?” The big one, of course, is The Beatles or Elvis? “Now Beatles people can like Elvis. And Elvis people can like the Beatles. But nobody likes them both equally. Somewhere you have to make a choice.” I myself adore the Beatles and consider them to be the most brilliant artists of the 20th century, yet Elvis still one-ups them for one simple reason: he’s Elvis frickin’ Presley, come on, how do you beat that!
His body of work might be mightily uneven and he became grotesque in his later days, but I can’t look at 1956-1968 Presley and call myself anything other than an Elvis person. There was something infinitely fascinating in Elvis during his prime, with his exceptional good looks, his overflowing charisma and the pure soul he put in every performance. No wonder countless people try to channel his energy to this day; I myself like to pretend to be the King whenever I go to karaoke clubs!
Then why was I so bored by this new documentary about Presley’s life? First, you have to wonder why we need yet another walk through Elvis’ near-universally known rags to riches story. The film boasts to be the most personal and intimate look at the “real” Presley, but that’s only hype. Even though it revolves around new interviews with his supposed best friend “Diamond Joe” Esposito, the picture offers no fresh insights and it barely wanders beyond Presley’s public image. We do get to see some photos and home movies, but this “video scrapbook” also fails to give us a fuller understanding of the man.
Esposito is sympathetic enough, and he obviously cared a lot about Elvis, but his recollections are superficial and rather dull. He basically just puts the images we see in minimal context, like a guy giving a running commentary for a reel of slides: “Here’s Elvis on the set of “Girls! Girls! Girls!”… Here’s Elvis and me at the beach…” Esposito doesn’t come off like a close friend but like just another groupie gushing about how generous, talented and all-around wonderful the King was. “Damn, Elvis was good looking!”, he exults in a particularly effusive case of pelvis-kissing. He’s like Chris Farley in that SNL skit where he played an overly impressionable interviewer who can’t come up with better questions than “Remember that time when you played Madison Square Garden… That was great!”
I’m not demanding for the movie to revel in sordid behind the scenes anecdotes, but how can you not even mention Presley’s downward spiral of drug use, sexual debauchery and self-destruction? The was Esposito tells it, you’d think Elvis remained a saint all his life, only putting on a few pounds before dying of a natural heart attack! We never get an impression of how Presley felt at any time besides remarks about how he was nervous before such show and he loved Priscilla. Instead, we get long segments devoted to the time Elvis bought a boat, or a plane, or horses…
And then there’s the final nail in the coffin, the thing that truly makes “Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers” utterly pointless: no Elvis music! That’s right, for some incomprehensible reason, we never even get to hear Elvis sing!. Esposito talks about great performances like the title number in “Jailhouse Rock” or the 68 Come-back special, but we never actually see them! I guess Universal Home Entertainment couldn’t get the rights for Presley’s music or just wouldn’t pony up the cash, but then why bother doing the film at all? Even if you’re an Elvis person, you won’t find anything to get excited about on this DVD.