A new HBO show about Elvis Presley seeks to strip away the legends surrounding the King and give the viewer a real look at the man behind the myths. Elvis Presley: The Searcher is a two-part 3 hour documentary that will premiere tonight – Saturday, April 14th at 8pm.
Few celebrities (or celebrity deaths) have inspired such enduring fascination as Elvis Aaron Presley. When he was found dead in his bathroom on August 16,1977, Presley had become a caricature of his former-self. He was seen as a bloated, sloppy country bumpkin with a propensity for drugs and junk food who was out of step with the times. In the ensuring forty years, very little has been done to change that image and many have forgotten that he truly was a musical innovator who played a crucial role in the development of Rock and Roll.
This new documentary seeks to change that. Directed by Thom Zimny and produced by Priscilla Presley and Jon Landau. Elvis Presley: The Searcher portrays him in a much more sympathetic light. The doc re-tells the life story of Elvis Presley through his music, previously unseen videos, photographs and interviews with friends, collaborator and fans, including Bruce Springsteen and the late Tom Petty (it was one of his final interviews).
For musicians such as Petty and Springsteen, Presley had a huge impact on the development of their sound.
As a child in the segregated south, Presley broke a taboo and often snuck into black churches to listen to the gospel music. As he grew older he dared to perform “black” music and to blend it with “white” song traditions, bringing it to the forefront of American culture.
“Elvis and Elvis’ music pointed to black culture and said, ‘This is something that is filled with the force of life,’” Springsteen says in the documentary. “If you want to be a complete and fulfilled person, if you want to be an American, this is something you need to pay attention to.”
“He did not invent rock ’n’ roll per se,” explains Petty, citing Little Richard and Joe Turner. “What he did was different.”
The idea for documentary project began four years ago with Priscilla Presley and Jerry Schilling, a longtime friend of Elvis. We wanted to tell the true story,” she says. “And then we just happened upon HBO, and [president for HBO Miniseries] Kary Antholis really got it.” HBO put them in contact with Landau and he helped to get the ball rolling.
“I said to them, ‘My perception would be to attempt to tell the story of Elvis, the artist, straight through to the end,'” says Landau. “In other words, I wanted to take the second half of his career as seriously as the first.”
Zimny, who was Landau’s first choice for director was then brought on board.
“I wanted to attack and shatter the shorthand version of Elvis Presley’s life story – that after the Army there was just bad films, bad recordings, bad tours and then his life was over,” says Zimny. “This was a man driven by music, even at his darkest times.”
Rather than falling into one of the tired, over-used narratives often used to tell Presley’s story, The Searcher with its unprecedented access and detailed research gives a much more nuanced narrative and restores Elvis to his rightful place in the Rock and Roll pantheon.