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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers (2002)

"We were friends first, employees second."
- Joe Esposito, on his relationship with Elvis Presley

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: July 29, 2002

Stars: Elvis Presley, Joe Esposito
Other Stars: Priscilla Presley, Danny Thomas, Frank Sinatra, Gina Tuttle, Kathy Westmoreland, Joey Bishop
Director: Terry Moloney

Manufacturer: Ritek Global Media
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:26m:45s
Release Date: July 30, 2002
UPC: 025192211027
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Many images come to mind when you think of Elvis Presley: screaming teenagers as he performs on The Ed Sullivan Show, Elvis on stage in Vegas throwing scarves to his fans, cradling his daughter for the benefit of the cameras, or gyrating to the opening chords of Jailhouse Rock. What you probably don't think of is Elvis with a best friend. But Joe Esposito wants you to think otherwise. An Army buddy of Elvis' who joined the Memphis Mafia, Elvis' entourage, shortly after their discharges from the service, Esposito hosts and serves as an executive producer on this documentary, which is principally free-floating remembrances of one of the two best men at Elvis and Priscilla Presley's wedding, nearly twenty-five years after Elvis' death.

Esposito seems like a very nice man, but there's no escaping the fact that he was on the payroll—he seems to have been, aside from a road manager and part of the security detail, a professional "yes" man. And Esposito is no Boswell, that's for sure; after decades with the King, his insights include such gems as "Elvis loved animals," "Elvis loved kids," "Elvis was a very patriotic person," and (my favorite) "Elvis liked warm weather." Esposito doesn't have an unkind word for anybody, but he almost unintentionally gives himself away when he's discussing Presley's business manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who "separated business from friendship." Fortunately for Esposito, Elvis didn't feel the same way.

And it's exclusively the sanitized Elvis for public consumption that we get here—no infidelities, nothing about the copious amounts of drugs that Presley ingested, wreaking havoc with his weight and his health. There's not even any talk of Elvis's marriage going south—one moment, Esposito is discussing Elvis and Priscilla as a storybook couple, and the next, poof, they're divorced. What happened? There are plenty of places to find out, but this isn't one of them.

One problem may be that Esposito wasn't there right from the beginning—by the time Esposito and Presley met, Presley was already world famous and wary about his public image. And so when your principal job description is staying in your friend's good graces, you're unlikely to ask too many questions, or challenge the boss about anything at all, really. Which is a shame, because in the broader picture, you can't help but wonder what would have happened to Presley if he was surrounded not by sycophants eager to please and ready to turn a blind eye to some dangerous excesses, but had a best friend who wouldn't have been afraid to read him the riot act, to get him some professional help instead of watching his genial personal physician dispense still more pills like Halloween candy to a six-year-old.

Esposito gets emotional recounting Presley's death—it was he who broke the news to Presley's ex-wife, and to Vernon, Elvis' father—however, I can't help but think that he dishonors the King's memory to some extent by providing too much specificity. If you must know, Elvis died while sitting on the toilet, careening off the throne and onto the floor, his pajamas around his ankles; and Esposito hiked up the PJs to spare the late Presley any further indignity. If I die in this manner and am discovered by my best friend, I hope that he will have the good sense to carry these details to his own grave.

Aside from his genial manner, Esposito's principal contribution seems to be the many snapshots he took of Presley over the years. So we see Elvis on vacation, Lisa Marie with Esposito's daughters, and many shots of the Lisa Marie, Elvis' private plane. Esposito may bill himself as Presley's best friend, but he's obviously not close enough to the Presley estate to get the rights to any of Elvis' songs, and that's a principal weakness of this film—there's not a note of Elvis singing, and given that the insights into Presley's character are limited, it's unclear to me just what the appeal of this documentary is intended to be.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: Esposito is shot in a cozy setting by a fireplace, and while the image quality isn't extraordinarily high, it's certainly more than adequate. The clips of Elvis look surprisingly clean and free of interference, and throughout, the blacks and color levels are pretty straight and true.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Audio quality is adequate, and Esposito is always clear—he fares better than some of the archival footage, which is full of pops and hisses. (The best of these is unquestionably a clip from a British newsreel, in which the announcer mispronounces Elvis' birthplace, calling it "too-PEE-loh.") Balance goes a little awry toward the end, when a mediocre song sung by Tamara Walker called Cry Like Memphis is played throbbingly loudly over an Elvis montage.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring K-9: P.I., Andrew Lloyd Webber offerings
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The eleven chapters' worth of bonus material (42m:08s) are in many respects more fun than the feature. Things start rather somberly, with contemporary news reports of Presley's death, from David Brinkley on the national news, and from the local Memphis affiliate. But the tone brightens quickly, as Esposito leads us on a tour of Elvis' birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi, and then on to Graceland—there are interviews with a variety of Elvis impersonators, memorabilia collectors, fans from all over the world (inexplicably, David Spade is among the fans interviewed), and Al Dvorin, the band leader and announcer whose claim to immortality is that it was he who, at the end of Presley's concerts, intoned those immortal words, "Elvis has left the building." (Sadly, no velvet Elvises are on display here.) Also included is a brief bio of Esposito; and the disc kicks off with a trailer for the straight-to-video third installment of the K9 series, along with a package of promo clips for Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, including Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, and the Lloyd Webber 50th birthday bash starring Glenn Close and Antonio Banderas. The connection between Cats and Elvis continues to elude me.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

A quarter-century after the death of Elvis Presley, the demand for anything and everything Elvis apparently remains inelastic—that's what the producers of this DVD must be hoping, anyway. There's very little new light shed on Elvis the man or the performer, but Joe Esposito's affection for his departed friend remains obvious, and this effort is at least heartfelt, if it isn't always especially interesting.


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