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Laramie Movie Scope:
Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers (DVD review)

Insider's fond memories of Elvis

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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July 11, 2002 -- Joe Esposito's version of the life and death of Elvis Aaron Presley (Jan. 8, 1935-August 16, 1977) is one of fond memories, as well as the painful memory of Elvis' death. If you are looking for the dirt on Elvis, or anybody else, you won't find it in "Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers." Esposito doesn't have a bad thing to say about anybody. He is equally kind to Elvis, his ex-wife, daughter, girlfriends, his manager Col. Tom Parker, even his bodyguards (some of whom have dished the dirt on Elvis).

Esposito comes across as a fairly decent character who cared about his boss and friend of over 17 years. Elvis also comes across as a nice guy, a poor country boy who made good. Maybe he is what Ed Sullivan said he was, a good, decent fellow, who just happened to be the biggest music star this country ever produced. This film makes it appear that he was a decent guy who found himself in an overwhelming situation. I wouldn't know. I'm no expert on Elvis. I'm not even a big fan of his. A lot of the information in this documentary may not be news to some, but it was to me.

Esposito, Elvis' longtime road manager (and a best man at Elvis' wedding to Priscilla), met Elvis in Germany while they were both in the Army. How they met, exactly, is not covered in the documentary, but it is in the bonus materials section of the DVD. If you just watched the documentary you are left wondering how the two met because Esposito said he was too shy to just walk up to Elvis, who was already the top recording star in the world, and introduce himself. One of the 11 bonus chapters titled "Germany 1959" covers how the two met and it also explains how Elvis got interested in karate. After the two met and became friends, Elvis offered Esposito a job. Esposito took it and continued to work for Elvis for the rest of Elvis' life. It was ironic, as Esposito points out, because Esposito, like Elvis, was drafted into the army. He did not want to serve, but being drafted turned out to be the luckiest break of Esposito's life.

The documentary (and some of the bonus chapters) consists of excerpts from what appears to be a very long interview, or series of interviews with Esposito, illustrated by a great deal of home movie, feature film, television and newsreel footage. Esposito also goes on location to show us some of Elvis' homes and places where he performed. These are mostly shown from the outside of the properties with Esposito standing on the street or sidewalk. The bonus material includes interviews with Elvis' biggest fan, and an interview with a fan who lives next to Graceland and who claims that Elvis' spirit is manifesting itself in the house. The movie is written, directed and produced by Terry Maloney. Joe Esposito and Maloney are executive producers of the film.

No documentary of Elvis would be complete without a thorough discussion of the day Elvis died. Esposito was there in Graceland when Elvis had his fatal heart attack at the age of 42 as he was preparing to go on tour. Esposito's emotions still well up when he talks about that day. The bonus materials include television news coverage of Elvis' death. The documentary also includes home movie footage of Elvis' last vacation. The film shows an Elvis who was getting a little overweight, but who was having a good time in Hawaii. Esposito said Elvis like to go to Hawaii for vacations. The fans left him alone and he could relax. Elvis is shown throwing a football around and grinning. Esposito said sure, Elvis was depressed sometimes, but that he also enjoyed his life. The documentary mentions some of his girlfriends like Linda Thompson, and Ginger Alden, who was at Graceland when Elvis died. There is also a chapter on the mysterious Colonel Tom Parker and his business relationship with Elvis (Esposito says the two were equal business partners).

One of the things Elvis enjoyed was flying places on his private jet, named the Lisa Marie, after his daughter. It was a big, four-engined customized jet with a crew ready to fly anywhere, anytime. Esposito tells a story about how the jet was purchased. Esposito also tells a story of his army days with Elvis going to Paris for a wild night that started in a topless club. One of the bonus chapters is "Touring Memphis," it shows the extent of the Elvis industry in that city, with tours of Graceland, Meditation Garden (where Elvis and his parents are buried), the museum of Elvis' cars, Sun Records and the Lisa Marie jet tour. There is a bonus chapter on Elvis impersonators, several of whom are interviewed. There is a short interview with Al Dvorin, who popularized the phrase "Elvis has left the building." Dvorin coined the phrase when he was pressed into service as an announcer during a show in Minneapolis. After the concert was over, he said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis has left the building. Thank you and good night." The rest is history.

Esposito talks often of the charities that Elvis gave money to. Elvis held a concert to raise money for the U.S.S. Arizona memorial. The documentary also covers how Elvis bought a presidential yacht and donated it to charity. Esposito said Elvis was very patriotic. Dvorin also said that when Elvis gave a charity concert "every cent went to charity. None of it went to expenses." Esposito also said that Elvis spent a lot of time signing autographs for his fans. He said Elvis appreciated his fans and signing autographs was one of the ways he liked to show his appreciation for their support. There's no doubt this appreciation was reciprocal. There are no more devoted fans in the world than those of Elvis. More than any other rock star, Elvis never lost touch with his roots or his fans. Even though he was the biggest music star ever, he never really lost that southern folksy charm, or his common touch, Esposito said.

This documentary makes a pretty good stab at explaining the phenomenon of Elvis Presley and how he remains an object of near worship 25 years after his death. Elvis singlehandedly put Memphis on the map and he still brings tourists by the millions to the city. An all-night candlelight procession at Graceland on the anniversary of Elvis' death is shown. It is truly amazing how many people still make a good living off of Elvis after all these years. Elvis' biggest fan, for instance, charges $5 admission to his Elvis museum. Esposito, it should be noted, is not objective when it comes to Elvis, but then, few people are. Esposito's life orbited around Elvis for a long time and he owes Elvis a lot. Among other things, Elvis got Esposito into the movie business by getting him bit parts in some of the many movies he did. Esposito later appeared as himself in a movie about Elvis. Esposito's stature is still linked to Elvis' stature and he has no reason to tear that down. Elvis also represents what many people consider a simpler, purer time in America. He has come to embody an age of chivalry and innocence, long before the music industry became so corrupt. To the extent this documentary explores that phenomenon, it rates a C+.

The DVD is in full-screen format. Sound is English Dolby (TM) 2.0 with subtitles available in English, French and Spanish. The DVD is divided into 24 chapters, with an additional 11 chapters of bonus material. There is a separate section devoted to Joe Esposito's biography. One of the 24 chapters is a music video tribute to Elvis sung by country-western singer Tamara Walker titled "Cry Like Memphis." The bonus material on the DVD is very good, some of it appears to be chapters cut, for whatever reason, from the documentary. I found the bonus chapters to be among some of the most informative and entertaining chapters on the DVD. The whole thing makes a nice tribute to the memory of a legendary entertainer and his many fans. The DVD rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2002 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)