Reinventing Elvis: The ’68 Comeback (2023) Movie Review – The King heals a country

The King heals a country

Reinventing Elvis: The ’68 Comeback is an insightful look at the politics of the time in America and how they parallel what would become one of The King of Rock n’ Roll’s standout performances. This was a televised performance that brought him back to the forefront of people’s minds, and reminded us all why we loved him in the first place.

1968 was a pivotal year in American history, loaded with a lot of pain and strife for many people. Racial tension was at an all-time high. Two assassinations took place: Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. A presidential campaign in which Richard Nixon was the clear front runner to take the Oval Office. Protests, riots, and police brutality all taking place around the country.

With all of this, who would have thought Elvis performing on live television could be something that eventually starts to heal the country. At least that is what the documentary about his ’68 Comeback is trying to say. Nobody was really yearning for a performance like this. Even the King himself had his nerves about coming on stage the night of the taping.

In fact, we see in the footage his nervousness as he performs the jam session with his band as a segment for the show. It’s one of the most standout parts of the whole broadcast.

The film has a slew of interviews as well, including audience members who were there that night. Musical acts like Darius Rucker and Dominican music producer Maffio speak about their love for Elvis and how much the singer meant to them. But through it all, the centerpiece of the documentary is the original producer of the show, Steve Binder.

Steve is 90 now, but he was 35 when he and Elvis linked up to do the show. During the process of making the broadcast, Steve and Elvis became very close, and a positive relationship formed that seemed to bring the king back to life with his work. Steve’s prescience with Elvis also got wedged in between the king and his manager Colonel Tom Parker. 

Like the most recent Baz Luhrmann-directed biopic, Tom Parker is not portrayed as a good man, and as a matter of fact, a massive enabler in Elvis Presley’s career. A lot of negative things said about Elvis over the years usually have something to do with the Colonel – and people don’t even know it. This doc also does just that.

We learn about Tom Parker’s schemes to get money from the networks or how he never really let Elvis evolve as an artist. He even fled his home country of Holland due to being linked to the murder of a woman. 

Tom Parker being a villain in all of this is one of the more negative themes of the film, but others are more positive. Elvis’ career trajectory was odd during the 1960’s; he was in the army for a few years, then made a string of movies that got worse and worse. He thought his star had burned out; this television special was something that got him back in the zeitgeist and, briefly, himself again. 

The documentary paces really well though, and it’s filled with a lot of information that never feels forced or crammed. None of what it is trying to accomplish feels lost. The archival footage of the show and behind-the-scenes footage makes you oddly nostalgic, even if you weren’t there for it. The parallels between America and its internal issues match, with the ’68 Special being the first thing to really bring the country back together, working incredibly well.

It is believed by many when going through difficult times in life that something comes along and heals the issues at hand, and it usually comes out of nowhere. This is the main message of the doc in terms of the superstar that was Elvis Presley. During this time, the country needed Elvis again, and Elvis seemed to need us too. 

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  • Verdict - 7.5/10

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