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Waterfall Home Entertainment presents
Elvis: The Missing Years (2001)

"Somebody asked me this morning what I missed about Memphis, and I said: everything."
- Elvis Presley, returning home after his Army discharge

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: July 09, 2002

Stars: Elvis Presley
Other Stars: Vernon Presley, Gladys Presley, Fats Domino, Priscilla Beaulieu, Jerry Lee Lewis, Paul Anka, Colonel Tom Parker
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:24m:21s
Release Date: February 19, 2002
UPC: 022891103097
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Okay, Elvis obsessives: can you guess just which are the missing years? No, it's not some story from the Weekly World News, about the King faking his death and then spending years bagging groceries in San Antonio or something. Elvis: The Missing Years is an extended look at Presley's stint in the U.S. Army, away from his legions of fans, serving his country in Germany in the late 1950s. So much of Presley's life has been exhaustively gone over and over that the promise of missing years or a fresh look is a tantalizing one for Elvis fans, but in fact there isn't a whole lot here that's new or that feels as if it's been missing.

We follow Elvis from induction to basic training to his being stationed in Germany to his honorable discharge, in pretty pro forma fashion, and it's a pretty unhappy Elvis here. A couple of Presley's army mates are interviewed, and while one of them insists that Elvis loved the Army—"I think he loved every minute of it. He enjoyed it"—another friend seems closer to the truth when he remarks: "He put on a brave front, but he was very sad." There are bad times—the death of his mother, which devastated him—and good ones: it was in Germany that he met his future wife, Priscilla Beaulieu, an Air Force officer's daughter who was in her early teens at the time. Elvis made the best of his circumstances, bringing his father, grandmother and a bunch of buddies over to Germany to make things more like home; an Army regulation designed for married soldiers (and almost certainly notrock stars) allowed G.I.s to live off base with their families; playing by the rules, Elvis took advantage of this and lived with his family on the top floor of a local hotel, instead of in the barracks with the rest of the enlisted men. Any of them would have readily swapped bunks with him, but still, when you're used to living like a King, this must have felt like hardship.

There's nothing too small or inconsequential from this time that the filmmakers haven't included—it's hard to imagine that they left anything out, and instead of a strong narrative, we're provided with anything and everything Elvis from those years, regardless of quality, quantity of significance. So we get to see "the Dutch Elvis," who got to meet and perform with his hero; we learn what Elvis liked to eat for breakfast (burnt bacon and biscuits with butter and jam); we witness Elvis getting a haircut, Elvis getting fitted for Army boots, Elvis learning how to pack a duffel bag. Presley deserves praise for refusing too much special treatment—at one point the Army wanted him to go on tour, and even wanted to set up a meeting with the Pope, but Presley knew that he'd catch hell in the press for that kind of coddling, and was content to perform his tasks as a jeep driver.

The most extended view of Elvis is the video footage of his press conference upon his return home, in what is labeled here as "Gracelands Interview." The press seems absolutely cowed—one reporter doesn't even want to ask questions, he just wants to welcome Elvis home. It's an ambling twelve minutes or so, featuring speculation on Elvis's possible relationship with Nancy Sinatra (he denies it), and indicates how compliant and awestruck the media were then compared to the omnipresent jackals of today.

What's missing here are not the years, but the music. Almost certainly this was a rights and clearances issue, but it's downright astonishing that this documentary about Elvis in the late 1950s features hardly a bar of his recordings, and that songs like Hound Dog, Blue Moon of Kentucky and Good Rockin' Tonight are discussed rather than heard. The documentary is padded out with a brief runthrough of his life after the Army—his marriage to Priscilla, the birth of Lisa Marie, his subsequent divorce, the '68 comeback special, Vegas, drug addiction, divorce, and death. We see footage of Presley's funeral procession, hear the proclamation about him from President Jimmy Carter, and end up with a series of stills over a cover of Because, and then a montage of Elvis's baby pictures. Whatever else you can say about all this—and there isn't much to say—it's hard to describe those subsequent years as missing ones.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The archival footage is of varying quality, and the newly recorded interviews were shot in a pretty slapdash manner. A good amount of dirt and debris interferes with the video presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The PCM track isn't particularly distinguished, though the voice-over narration and interviewees are readily audible.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 21 cues
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray Double
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. audio CD
  2. accompanying booklet
Extras Review: The DVD includes an accompanying audio documentary (55m:04s) that features a veddy British narrator guiding us through Presley's life, from birth to death, intoning such generalities as "He sang as no white man had sung before; he moved as no white man had moved before." It includes almost no music, though Elvis is present principally in extended radio interviews from the early days, and there are some audio clips from interviews that appear in the documentary feature.

The set comes with a booklet, peppily called The Super Booklet, that has many of the same still photographs shown frequently in the documentary. The accompanying audio CD (32m:43s) features some poorly recorded and incomplete live performances of early Elvis songs, including That's All Right, Mama and Baby Let's Play House, but it's more interesting for the grab bag of Presley audio trivia on hand, including extended recordings of press conferences and girls outside his house chanting, "We want Elvis! We want Elvis!"

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

This set has its fascinations, but it's really only for Elvis diehards, or perhaps for those with some misguided desire to find out the hard facts that were the basis for Bye Bye Birdie. Elvis seems to have been a good soldier, but his millions of fans are undoubtedly more interested in his music than in his military service.


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