This 1987 documentary, 'Elvis '56', has yet to be bettered and is distinguished by both its smart narrative premise and wonderful performance footage of Elvis Presley at the dawn of his remarkable career. With the King's melodramatic life already a familiar subject for film and print biographies, producer-directors Alan and Susan Raymond instead shaped this hour-long profile around the year that saw the charismatic Memphis singer's eruption as a pop sensation. By taking that selective path, and focusing tightly on Presley's crucial transition to a major record deal, national media exposure and the first decisive steps in his subsequent movie career, Elvis '56 achieves a unique cohesion while legitimately celebrating a remarkable period of growth.
With the Band's Levon Helm narrating in his salty Arkansas drawl, the story effectively conveys Elvis' Southern perspective, while evocative use of Alfred Wertheimer's celebrated black-and-white still portraits sustains a visual style carrying over to the programme's real high points: early stage and television appearances by Presley and his original trio, later augmented into a quartet. Among the highlights are historic slots on Milton Berle's and Steve Allen's variety shows: we see the joyous physicality that made the Berle performance a topic of outrage (and, of course, a swoon-worthy moment for female fans), as well as Allen's glib solution to censors' worries, forcing a static, tail-coated Presley to sing 'Hound Dog' to a basset hound.
Narrated by Levon Helm