For Elvis fans of all kind, “That’s the Way It is: Two-Disc Special Edition” will bring about some truly good supplements, including two version of this documentary. You received the original 1970 theatrical edition, and the 2001 Special Edition, which is twelve minutes shorter, but visually restored. Elvis is pretty much like The Beatles, they’re both instantly identifiable, household names, difficult to resist, and made impacts on music that no one could ever re-capture. Pop and Rock stars will come and go, but there is only one Elvis, and the concert film “That’s the Way It Is” proves that, once and for all.
I’m not even an Elvis fan and I was engrossed in the King’s performance. After years working in Hollywood, Elvis has embarked on a musical world that’s now basically been dominated by the Beatles, and many other Brit invasion bands who have come and gone before he returned. “That’s the Way It Is” features an Elvis who is still perfectly in tip top, ready to return to music and regaining much of the pipes and rhythm he had before he took off to make movies. “That’s the Way It Is” is a documentary in the purest sense.
There aren’t many interviews, and zero commentary, instead it just lets you sit in on a long music session with the King and his group of back up singers, his band, and his friends watching on the sidelines, and you get to see the bloopers, the technical problems, and of course, Elvis just having a lot of fun. You can see that this is a man anxious to reclaim the same momentum he had, and it was a pretty long time before he became an overweight drug user.
Elvis was ready to get back into it, and he makes it perfectly clear with his meticulous arrangements, and directions, while also being playful with everyone around him. There also seems to be an unspoken mutual respect between the Beatles and Elvis, take for example the moment when Elvis is singing “Little Sister” and suddenly transforms the song into his own fantastic cover of “Get Back.” It’s truly a magical moment. Sadly, Elvis being left out of the musical and societal changes were reflected once again, when “That’s the Way It Is” would be soon pushed back for two equally powerful films that would be released on the same year. In 1970, we saw the releases of “Woodstock,” probably one of the most relevant and historic music documentaries in history, and “Let It Be,” a controversial documentary featuring the Beatles on the midst of their break up.
“That’s the Way It Is” doesn’t suffer when compared, because it’s still a very important chronicle of a man returning to his music, and hoping to take the world by storm yet again. This is a man anxious for verification that he was missed in music, so this new show is his own assurance that he can’t get from his entourage. In one truly excellent moment, Elvis begins singing “Love Me Tender,” starts kissing women in the audience, and then completely walks into the crowd and begins greeting everyone who screams at his presence and walks all around into anxious women who drop at his feet. It’s touching and almost tragic to see the King, who would soon dissolve into a shell of the man he once was.
“That’s the Way It Is” is a raucous and exciting concert documentary, and should be looked at as a celebration of Elvis. No tears should be shed when the King is onstage rocking his heart out.