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- Posted on Aug 3rd 2010 5:00PM by Alanna Nash
Newly restored and remastered, 'Elvis on Tour' chronicles the entertainer's 15-city US tour in April 1972, when his entourage included Jerry Schilling, who went to work for Presley in 1964 but first met the 19-year old Elvis playing touch football. Now 68, Schilling spoke to Spinner about his friend and the making of the documentary.
You're a former creative affairs director of Elvis Presley Enterprises and worked as a producer of Elvis-related projects. But did you have a role in the production of 'Elvis on Tour' at the time it was filmed?
Yes, I did. I was on tour with Elvis and had met the filmmakers, Bob Abel and Pierre Adidge, and was really impressed with these young, hip filmmakers. I had left Elvis once before to do film editing, and I asked him if he would have a problem if I went to these guys for a job. He wasn't thrilled about me leaving again, but he said, "If you really want to do it, it's OK." I think Bob and Pierre were a little leery at first, because I could have been the perfect Colonel [Tom Parker]/Elvis spy, right? But they realized I was serious, and I started out as an entry film assistant, coding film.
Marty Scorsese was the montage supervisor.
Yeah. Which is kind of mind-blowing, isn't it? I think he was editing 'Mean Streets' at the same time. He put together a beautiful montage of Elvis's life in still pictures, and then the kissing montage of moving pictures. I loved going into his editing room, delivering film, and I would always hang around a little bit and watch what he was doing. Marty was very intense. He wasn't a guy who'd just sit around chatting. He worked very hard, and he didn't say much. One night we worked very late. We were waiting for the guys to lock up, just sitting on the floor. And he said, "Jerry, you know what I've got?" I said, "What?" He said, "I've got 'That's All Right, Mama.' 78. Sun Records." That was his way of letting me know he knew Elvis's music and he liked it.
Mike Guastella, WireImage
As the project grew, I had the opportunity to cut the end credits sequence. It was my first film editing. I hadn't been in the union long enough, but they asked me to bring in three or four songs, and I just said, "I have it." And I brought in 'Memories.' So Bob and Pierre said, "If you want to come in by yourself on a Sunday and put together images with this song, we'll give you a shot." And they didn't change a frame, which I was really proud of.
Some of the fans are disappointed that the new edition doesn't feature 'Johnny B. Goode' under the opening credits, as the film did originally.
They didn't use 'Johnny B. Goode' because they couldn't get in touch with Chuck Berry. It wasn't a money issue at all. They didn't even get a quote. I know they tried for months. Chuck's almost 84 years old, and he doesn't work on normal business levels. So it was a matter of changing that song or not having this project. Warner Bros. is as disappointed as the fans.
The film is remarkable in that Elvis seems totally oblivious to the camera, just as he was with Albert Wertheimer's lens in 1956. He makes himself very vulnerable, especially backstage and in the intimate shots in the car after a show, where he's looking out the window.
It's a great piece of history. The most the cameras ever saw of that was on this film. 'Elvis on Tour' appeared in more than 460 theaters for one night only this past July 29, and in the 22-minute intro documentary that showed prior to it, I made a comparison to that Wertheimer picture where he's looking out the train. He's got that same look. Whatever he was looking for in '56, he was still looking for in '72. Bob and Pierre really got to a side of Elvis that nobody had or has since.
Like when Elvis says to Joe Esposito, "We came over too soon, didn't we?" He's nervous backstage.
Yeah. He said to me, "It's like when Muhammad Ali has his hands wrapped. He's burning up adrenaline. I'm burning up adrenaline when I put the wardrobe on." He never liked to get there earlier than 10 or 15 minutes before the show. As you see him backstage, he's pacing. There's small talk, and a few instructions, but you can tell he's only thinking about the show.
The film was made at such a crossroads for him. Vegas had whipped him into remarkable physical shape, and his shows received glowing reviews, but his divorce had devastated him.
He still had great movements, and he was still doing uptempo stuff, like 'Burning Love,' which was so new he had to hold the lyrics. But he had a tendency to choose material by how he was feeling. There are a lot of ballads [in the recording session sequence], like 'Separate Ways' and 'Bridge Over Troubled Water.' So it's almost the dichotomy of Elvis, from the rock and roller to even his joy in gospel music.
When the Stamps sing 'Sweet, Sweet Spirit,' the close-ups of Elvis' face show him in the grips of almost transcendent beauty.
When we did the postproduction, I looked at that from my young rock 'n' roll perspective and thought, "This is a throwaway." I look at that now and it's one of my favorite pieces of footage on Elvis. It's so personal. But that look on his face is very different look from the one in the car.
There's an incredible picture of him in the Blu-ray booklet. He's down on one knee, with his cape spread out, and his eyes fixed intently on something that is not of this world.
The first time I ever witnessed that in person was in 1966. We were up in Nashville at RCA. The other guys had been to so many recording sessions they always had a poker game going. I was still fascinated to hear the musicians tune up and see Elvis basically produce the sessions. And when he did 'How Great Thou Art,' it was like his soul briefly left his body. He went down to one knee and turned white as a ghost. He was just someplace else. All of his energy was gone. And when he finished, he knew he had done something great. He looked across the room and saw me sitting in a chair, and he gave me that little-boy smile as his energy started coming back. It's one of those moments I'll never forget.
Do you know what he thought about his relationship with God?
I think he was searching for that. He knew he was given a special gift. As he always said, "There is no such thing as coincidence." But don't forget you've got the other times when he's got no hits, and he hates the movies [he made in the '60s]. So you have to take the whole person with the ups, the downs, the spiritual and the nonspiritual. It's like you see most of his movies and you think Elvis Presley is such a nice guy, which he was. But he chose to be a nice guy. He had a lot of fun and success, but he also had a lot of pressure and responsibility, a lot of disappointments and a terrible temper, and that makes for a very complicated, sometimes moody person.
He was far smarter than people thought. Performers today have all kinds of creative advisers, both on stage and off. Other than when producer-director Steve Binder gave him direction for the 'Comeback Special,' essentially Elvis was completely organic. He came up with all of it, from wardrobe to stage movements to song selection, at least of what he was allowed to record.
He came up with all of it that was within his power. This guy was a thinker, and always ahead of his time. I don't know if the world has ever gotten that. But as the machinery got big, and everybody got important, the creativity got hurt. Nobody would listen to him. Colonel [Parker] made some really good decisions in the beginning [as Elvis' manager] and kept him in front of the public when he was in the Army. But as Elvis got older and wanted to do things other than just be the race car driver and the boy next door in the movies, it fell on deaf ears. I think there was a lot of sabotage on his [unfinished but recently released] karate project, because the people in charge of films and management and records didn't want Elvis to be too smart. They always tried to undermine it and make it look silly and unworkable. This was part of his split with the Colonel, as was the [lack of] overseas touring -- all this stuff that I was in the middle of from time to time. I feel very strongly that I lost my friend at an early age because of creative disappointment. The drugs were Band-Aids.
The DVD collection is only his MGM films. There has never been a complete Elvis movie collection on DVD or VHS.
I would think it would be difficult, unless the studios loaned out their material. But anything's possible these days.
You were Lisa Marie's first manager. What was it like launching the career of Elvis' daughter?
That was exciting, and a real honor. I really believed in her as an artist. I still do. And I never forget what this is all about. It's about my friend Elvis. And in situations like that, I feel that he would be pleased. We wound up getting a major deal at CBS/Epic, and she backed out as the contract was delivered. It's OK. We spent a good year listening to demos and going into the studio for the first time. She's a hell of a writer. You still may see something musically in the future with her. She's quite a girl.
The Memphis Mafia, Elvis' entourage, is often misunderstood. You were part of that, but Elvis also saw you as something of a little brother.
I'd like to think that. I certainly saw him as a big brother, and he really was to me. We had some heavy conversations or disagreements, but they just made our friendship stronger. I think I'm the only guy he never fired. Sometimes he fired everybody. I just wasn't around then. And these other guys become our brothers, as well. There were some strong individuals in the group, not what most of the public thinks--a bunch of yes men and hangers on. There was a true bond with us guys. I miss all that. It was, in a lot of ways, us against the world. I don't think there was a guy who wouldn't have given his life for him. It just shows how strong Elvis was. After we lost him, everybody kind of went crazy. But it's like families. People live different places, have different opinions, and take different paths. Life goes on.