“If you really want to understand what Elvis music is, you have to start from the place of Memphis. You have to start from the place of the beauty of Memphis and the power of this music.”
Thom Zimny, who directed the new documentary "Elvis Presley: The Searcher," said those words during a red carpet interview with the Memphis Business Journal prior to a screening of the film at the Guesthouse at Graceland on March 17.
The two-part documentary is set to premiere on HBO Saturday, April 14, but a select group of attendees were able to see the film early. The movie was also
shown at SXSW March 14.
Prior to his involvement on "Elvis Presley: The Searcher,"Zimny spent 18 years making films with Bruce Springsteen. He said it was his desire to bring out the story of Elvis the artist that made him work on the project.
“I don’t go down any roads of gossip or backstory of Elvis’ lifestyle. I had no interest in things like the Memphis Mafia or the Cadillac giving away,” Zimny said. “It is about the artist and the music. When you focus that way, you actually get a truer sense of the man. A lot of times, he became a caricature, and what you lose is a sense of history. Another really important thing was to show the influences in his life. It is not simply mentioning gospel in a movie, it is breaking down the details between black and white gospel. Breaking down the details of Beale Street and those influences that were around, which puts an end to the argument of: Did Elvis take this music? He was in it. He lived in this music, and it was part of his life until the very end.”
In addition to Zimny, Elvis’ ex-wife, Priscilla Presley, and Elvis’ longtime friend, Jerry Schilling — both producers on the film — attended the Memphis event.
Voiceovers from Schilling and Priscilla Presley are featured throughout the documentary along with Emmylou Harris, Robbie Robertson, Scotty Moore, Red West, Tom Petty, Springsteen and David Porter. Audio clips from Elvis Presley are also included.
Schilling — who said this multiyear project was one of the things he is most proud of — hopes the film gives people a knowledge of how special Elvis was, how hard he worked and how much he cared.
“Elvis never was one to get on a podium and say, ‘I did this and I did that,’ but if you got that little smile from him, you knew he was proud. I know he would be,” Schilling said. “I can’t say that on every project I have been involved … but this one, I would love to watch it with him.”
Priscilla Presley said for people who loved him before, they would love Elvis even more after they watch the movie because he is made human.
When asked what Elvis would think if he saw the Graceland campus today, Pricilla Presley said he would not believe it.
“He thought his fans would all forget him when he passed,” she said. “We worried how they were going to remember him, but here — it’s all still here.”