Elvis Presley: The Searcher

Synopsis: Elvis Presley's evolution as a musician and a man.
Genre: Documentary
Director(s): Thom Zimny
Production: HBO Documentary Films
Rotten Tomatoes:
109 min


Priscilla Presley:

Elvis was a searcher.

It's a part of him

that never left.


The following program

is brought to you

in living color, on NBC.

Singer presents Elvis,

starring Elvis Presley

in his first TV special,

his first personal performance

on TV in nearly ten years.

(blues music playing)

If you're lookin'

for trouble

You came to the right place

If you're lookin'

for trouble

Just look right in my face

I was born standin' up

And talkin' back

My daddy was

a green-eyed mountain jack

Because I'm evil

My middle name is Misery

Well, I'm evil

Ah, so don't you

mess around with me


In '68, he was

a nervous wreck.

Nervous because he didn't know

if his audience was

going to accept him.

People had not seen him

perform in so long.

It felt like his record career

was over as well.

It was intense.

The '68 Special,

it was either the beginning

or the end of his career.

Tom Petty:

You know, God bless him.

He was a light for all of us.

We all owe him

for going first into battle.

(Petty laughs)

He had no road map,

and he forged a path

of what to do

and what not to do.

We shouldn't

make the mistake

of writing off

a great artist

by all the clatter

that came later.

We should dwell in what he did

that was so beautiful

and everlasting,

which was that

great, great music.


Yes, my baby left me

Never said a word

Was it something I done

Something that she heard?

My baby left me,

my baby left me

My baby even left me

Never said a word

Lord, I stand at my window

Wring my hands and cry

I hate to lose that woman

Hate to say goodbye

You know, she left me

Yeah, she left me

My baby even left me

Never said a word

Play it blues, boy

(film projector whirring)

Jerry Schilling:

Elvis always remembered

what it was like

to have nothing,

and to have no respect,

to be looked down upon.


Elvis never forgot

the experience

of being in poverty, ever.

It stuck with him

all his life.

When I look at photos of Elvis

when he was young,

I see that little boy in him,

that playfulness,

the curiosity in his eyes.

But I also see how he felt

responsibility for his mother.

Bill Ferris:

Elvis was born

in a shotgun house.

The poorest of the poor

lived in those houses.

His twin brother

did not survive birth.

And it's said that

his mother would tell him

that if he sang when

the moon was full at night,

his twin brother

could hear him.


Gladys was a doting mother,

but she could be

quite firm as well.

Always very protective of him.

He was her only child.

She lived for him, and...

he lived for her.

When Elvis was

three years old in 1938,

his father was sentenced

to three years in prison

for forging a check.

The check was to buy food

to put on the table.

Gladys would take him

to see his father.

Vernon was so embarrassed.

John Jackson:

Thankfully, he doesn't have

to spend the three years.

He only spends

six months in prison.

But what it does is

it starts a pattern

of Vernon being away

and Elvis and Gladys being

left to their own devices.

And they move around and live

in different boarding houses.


This was the end

of the Depression.

Vernon, after that experience

at Parchman Prison,

he had a hard time

finding jobs.


Elvis told me that his father

really lost his spirit.

And his mother had to work

really hard during that time.


Yes, that's it.

(guitar playing)

Ready here for the slate. 802.

(music continues)


Steve Binder:

When I first got

the phone call

to get involved with Elvis...

my partner at the time,

Bones Howe,

who was a very successful

record producer,

was really flabbergasted

when I said no.

And he came over to me

right after I hung up

the phone,

and he said,

"Steve, I engineered

an Elvis Presley album.

I know Elvis Presley,

and I think you guys

would hit it off great."

(playing continues)

Bones Howe:

Elvis was a guy

who sang from his gut.

This is something

you're born with.

You're born with that

commitment to the music.

The one thing I remember

that stuck with me

all these years,

was Binder said,

"People need to see him

the way he really is.

"He had to dig back

to find his real self,

and it was like looking

back into the past."

(gospel music playing)

(wind howling)

(gospel music continuing)

Red West:

Vernon and Gladys

heard this loud roar,

half in their sleep.

They picked Elvis up.

Thought they were putting

him out a window

to get him away

from the train

that was coming.

Threw him right into a wall,

and he bounced off

and fell on the floor.


His cryin' woke them up,

and they saw it was no train.

It was a tornado

that went through Tupelo.


Southern religion

reminds its believers

that we're here

for a short time.

If you lost your life

or you were spared,

it was because

of divine providence.

The loss of life,

the destruction of property,

it was a reminder

of the fragility of life.

(piano playing on record)


Going to church

with his parents,

hearing gospel music,

being a part of people

getting in touch,

moving with the music,

getting lost in the music.


I've got that

old-time religion

Got that old-time religion

That is why I'm satisfied

Larry Strickland:

If you lived in a rural area,

there wasn't much else

but the music and the church.

It wasn't like you'd be

going there and sitting back

and crossin' your legs

and relaxing.

You know, you get very involved

and very energetic.

It's as much a feeling

as it is a hearing.

Elvis Presley:

I've always liked music.

My mother and dad

both loved to sing.

They'd tell me that when I was

about three or four years old,

I got away from

them in church

and walked up

in front of the choir

and started beatin' time.


Have you seen

Where the Lord's gone?

Tell me now

Where he's gone

Where he's gone

(singing continues, indistinct)


The hymns were more

than religious.

They were fundamental

building blocks of music.

Rhythmic, hard-hitting,

you had the foundation

of rock and roll bands,

playing in churches.

When I sit down

Lord, sit down

Something will be over

Lord, sit down

When I sit down

Lord, sit down

Gonna say come over here


(indistinct excited speaking)


I'm so glad!

I'm working over here!


People came to be excited,

and taken out

of their daily experience.

Elvis was like

Huck Finn exploring.

At night, he would slip

in to black churches.

He would listen

to gospel music

and to the sermons.


Gladys let him

pursue the music

that he could

surround himself with.


Elvis was very different.

Color lines were

rarely crossed.

You just didn't find

white people

that tuned into black music

and stayed there

and found it interesting

and studied it.

David Porter:

A time where the country

was into racism

and segregation,

and here was a young kid.

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Alan Light

Alan Light (born August 4, 1966) is an American journalist who has been a rock critic for Rolling Stone and the editor-in-chief for both Vibe and Spin. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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