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Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers

To say you are Elvis Presley's "best friend" seems quite a declaration. Did Elvis really have a best friend? Surrounded by his Memphis Mafia during his later years, a smattering of girlfriends that looked a lot like his first wife Priscilla, and consuming large quantities of prescription pills to which only a star could have doctor-approved access, what kind of friends were these people? More like yes-men friends. Still, to be sure, "Diamond Joe" Esposito (a nickname Big E gave to Esposito) was close to Elvis. As this documentary/recollection reveals, Esposito met Elvis in the Army, during which Elvis offered him a job. He went on to be Elvis's best man at his wedding, giving away young Priscilla; his towel and water man (Elvis liked to tell the crowd that Esposito was the guy who gave him his water, towels, and his notes); and pallbearer to his funeral. Twenty years of his life was dedicated to servicing Elvis (key word: servicing). But listening to Joe in this DVD account, one can't help get that creeping feeling of one guy simply cashing in. He even says in one of the film's bonus chapters, entitled "Memorabilia," that he should have saved more of The King's seemingly needless items, like tissue paper. A hanky Elvis blew his nose on would go for thousands claims old Joe. Yes, selling the TP of your "best friend" after his tragic death at the age of 42 seems real classy. To simply look at this DVD's menu, reading chapters like "The King Loves Karate," '68 Comeback Special" and "Elvis Buys a Chimp," any Elvis fan (and this writer is a huge one) will get excited. New footage! Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers does offer some rare photos, but not much in the way of moving footage. Esposito didn't even get song rights, so we hear generic pseudo rockabilly instrumentals that sound like something from a local television commercial tinkering underneath the images of a gorgeous, leather clad Elvis wowing the world with his "'68 Comeback Special" (just rent the actual special). The set-up and filming often look like a cornball promotional video for public-service concerns, like drugs or drunk driving. And worst of all, Esposito introduces every chapter in person, narrating photos with the same old safe stuff a yes-man would say about his "friend." Elvis was very patriotic; Elvis was a kind person; Elvis was the nicest friend in the world. He even defends Elvis's dogged and sometimes destructive manager, Colonel Tom Parker, glossing over his misdeeds with a "he was a human being just like everyone else" excuse. Esposito just drones on like a boring slide-show presenter, proving that he can never penetrate what really made Elvis tick. Yes, he was a nice country boy who loved his mama (a lot), but he was also an incredibly troubled and mysterious man who poured his heartache out on stage, particularly during his underrated Vegas years where he gave new meaning to "Bridge over Troubled Water." Though Elvis fans will never tire of simply looking at Elvis or listening to his press conferences, they will get tired of Esposito's mug. Its nice that he reveres Elvis, and hearing stories about the crew jumping on the Lisa Marie to grab dinner in places like Denver are fun (if you've never heard them before). But we get it — you hung with The King. The whole thing just makes Elvis seem even lonelier than you ever imagined. Universal's DVD release of Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers presents a nice full-frame transfer (1.33:1) with audio in Dolby 2.0 Stereo 2.0. Supplements include bonus chapters, the most interesting being "The World Mourns," in which old news footage shows the sadness of Elvis's death in 1977. Elvis fans will want to grab this, but neophytes should check out the documentaries This Is Elvis and Elvis: That's the Way It Is. Keep-case.
—Kim Morgan

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