Movie Man: The magic and menace of rock ‘n’ roll

Will Pfeifer

They don’t make concert films like they used to.

These days, they’re all high-tech setups captured on dozens of high-def cameras in perfect fidelity, with the bands playing more to the TV viewers than the folks filling the seats of the arena. But back in the old days, concert films were aimed at replicating the experience on the big screen, not providing a handy souvenir for home video. Though they obviously still captured staged events, those concert films were rougher around the edges — sometimes a lot rougher.

Take “Elvis on Tour,” a movie that captured Presley in 1972 during a 15-city trip, which just arrived on DVD and Blu-ray. The documentary doesn’t depict the hip-swiveling young Elvis of the mid-1950s (though we see a glimpse of him in a montage), nor is it the bloated, wrecked Elvis of the late 1970s (though we can see that’s where things are heading). No, this is something in between, and if this version lacks the edge of his younger self, there’s still a boyish enthusiasm visible through all those capes and karate chops. He’s corny, sure, with legions of backup singers and a very old-fashioned, family-friendly song lineup, but the man still knows how to hold an audience in the palm of his hand. You might roll your eyes, but odds are, you’ll hum along, too. There’s a reason he was called The King, and it’s apparent in every frame of this oddly compelling movie.

Showing Elvis both on- and offstage, with glimpses of his distant past and an amusing montage of his movie career, “Elvis on Tour” is a sharply edited, consistently entertaining portrait of an icon past his prime — but not past his sell-by date. There’s a good feeling that surrounds “Elvis on Tour,” and whether it’s manufactured or genuine hardly matters. Either way, the movie leaves you smiling, even if it’s in spite of yourself.

The same can’t be said for “Gimme Shelter,” but that’s because it’s a more challenging film. Now available on DVD and Blu-ray, it starts out with plenty of rock-star enthusiasm but winds up in a much darker place. Originally filmed to capture the Rolling Stones during their 1969 U.S. tour, the movie became something else entirely when that tour came to a crashing halt at California’s Altamont Speedway. The final show was planned as a free concert, and the scenes before the actual concert are full of happy hippies frolicking around the stage. But also visible around that stage are members of the Hell’s Angels, acting — for reasons no one can seem to explain — as concert security.

Throughout the day, the bikers attack members of the crowd and even the opening bands, casting an ever-darkening shadow over the formerly blissful mood. By the time the Stones take the stage, the vibe has gone from bad to worse, and things reach rock bottom when, as Jagger sings “Under My Thumb,” a man named Meredith Hunter pulls a gun a few feet from the stage and is promptly stabbed and beaten to death by the Angels.

Clearly, this isn’t just another concert film. As every aging hippie has proclaimed, Altamont was the stake in the heart of the Woodstock era, and it’s all captured here for your viewing “pleasure.” What’s surprising is that, thanks to directors David and Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, “Gimme Shelter” doesn’t feel cheap or exploitative. On the contrary, it’s a mesmerizing movie, full of amazing visuals and (obviously) great music. What’s more, it generates an ominous mood like few movies I’ve ever seen, fictional or documentary. When it ends, with a freeze frame of Mick Jagger staring at the camera, you know you’ve witnessed something amazing.

Contact Will Pfeifer at wpfeifer@rrstar.com or 815-987-1244. Read his blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/movie man/

Make room in your collection

Some DVDs out Tuesday

“Batman: The Brave And The Bold Season One Part One”: Batman teams up with lots of other heroes in this very entertaining animated series. Trivia note: Diedrich Bader of “The Drew Carey Show” and “Office Space” provided the voice for Batman.

“The Conversation”: Gene Hackman plays a secretive surveillance expert in what may be Francis Ford Coppola’s best film. Yes, I said it — even better than “The Godfather.”

“Cougar Town: The Complete First Season”: Courteney Cox finds success after “Friends,” and her sitcom gets the boxed set to prove it.

“Dexter: The Fourth Season”: Maybe the creepiest season of “Dexter” yet, thanks in large part to John Lithgow’s turn as a serial killer.

“Furry Vengeance”: Brendan Fraser battles nature in this comedy that critics hated and audiences ignored.

“Good Bad & the Weird”: Korean director Ji-Woon Kim delivers this action-packed, over-the-top tribute to the wild westerns of Sergio Leone.

“Ugly Betty: The Complete Fourth And Final Season”: ABC’s sitcom starring America Ferrera and former Miss America Vanessa Williams gets a last-season collection.

And CDs

American Hi-Fi, “Fight The Frequency”: The cover features an image of a cassette tape, which might mystify young listeners.

Iron Maiden, “The Final Frontier”: Judging by the title, this could be a collection of “Star Trek” tunes — but I doubt it.

Brian Wilson, “Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin”: Wait. Really? The former Beach Boy offers his take on “Rhapsody in Blue”?

Soundtrack, “Dexter: Season 4”: If the show didn’t give you nightmares, maybe the music will.

A-Ha, “25: The Collection”: So I’m guessing this CD includes “Take On Me” and ... did they have any other songs?

NOFX, “The Longest EP”: Which would make it an LP, right? (Which I guess is the joke, right?)

Various Artists, “We Did It: Dora’s Greatest Hits”: Parents, consider this your warning: Do whatever it takes to keep this CD out of your house.

— Will Pfeifer

Sources: dvdtalk.com, tophitsonline.com