SHINE A LIGHT is a documentary movie about the Rolling Stones directed by Martin Scorsese, and we were watching it for the second time. Like the first time, we borrowed the DVD from the library and watched it with a late dinner. In the first few minutes of the film, something caught my attention in a way it hadn’t the first time and suddenly I was thinking about Elvis.
I paused the movie and headed to my computer where I found what I was looking for—which can be found below. But first I need to return to the Scorsese Stones movie. Shine A Light was filmed on October 29 and November 1, 2006, at the Beacon Theatre in New York City as the culmination of the Stones’ A Bigger Bang Tour. 1
These Beacon Theatre performances benefitted the Clinton Foundation, a charity founded by Bill Clinton. The first fifteen minutes of Shine A Light takes place backstage and shows us the ins and outs of setting up a stage for filming.
The musicians meet the Clintons, and we see Scorsese as a somewhat neurotic perfectionist (I know, are there any other kinds?) making sure everything is just so. And he makes sure he that he’s making a good documentary about the Rolling Stones.
Shine A Light had its world premiere at the 58th Berlin International Film Festival on February 7, 2008. The film cost approximately $1,000,000 to produce and grossed more than $15,000,000 in theaters worldwide. It had limited distribution in most areas but is readily available on DVD. 2
We cannot burn Mick Jagger
One of the things that have to be more than just so—in fact, has to be perfect—are the positioning and use of the overheads lights that will be shining on the people on stage throughout the show.
At one point, Scorsese and members of his crew—many of them accomplished cinematographers—were discussing the lighting and how they could affect the musicians, especially Jagger:
Crew #1: “If Mick stands in front of the light for more than 18 seconds, it’s going to burn.“
Crew #2: “You mean, like flames and that?“
Crew #3: “We cannot burn Mick Jagger!“
Crew #2: “But you want the effect?“
Crew #3: “We want the effect, but we can’t burn him.”
And this is what caused me to pause watching Shine A Light: the fact that almost everything utilized in performing live on stage has changed since the Stones barnstormed across the United States in 1972, then the biggest and most profitable tour in entertainment history.
Shortly after the tour, in January 1973, Elvis performed at the Honolulu International Center in Hawaii. It was broadcast live via satellite to several parts of the world and was eventually broadcast to most of the rest of the world a few months later.
Elvis – Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite was an even bigger success than the Stones’ tour in terms of audience. But as it was an event to raise money for a charity, there was no box office take. 3
Elvis’s detractors argued that his profuse perspiring indicated he was heavily drugged during his performance, something no fan believed.
This was also about the time when critics started talking openly about Elvis’s appearance and his demeanor in less than laudatory terms. One of the observations that was made about Elvis during this show was how freely and heavily he perspired. Detractors used this to argue that Elvis was heavily drugged during his performance, something no fan wanted to believe.
Presley’s drug use was by then known to fans who weren’t in denial; I had been hearing about his being a little loopy at times since 1970. But the extent of his drug use wasn’t known to most of us. And excessive perspiring is often a sign of chemical toxicity as the user’s body forces the chemicals out of the pores.
As I said, no fan of Elvis wanted to believe he would show up for a televised stage appearance in front of tens of millions of people … you know, f*cked up.
After the aloha
The fans who defended Presley pointed out that the sweating could have been caused by the strength of the lights focused on the singer while he was on stage. And that’s what caused me to pause Shine A Light: if stage lights in 2006 could actually burn Mick Jagger, couldn’t stage lights in 1973 cause sweating in Elvis?
I thought I knew a way to see if this was so: I searched YouTube for videos of the Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite show. But instead of looking for videos of Elvis during the concert, I wanted videos of him after the concert.
The Aloha From Hawaii concert was not broadcast live in the United States but shown on April 3, 1973. As it was also a longer television special, additional material was needed. After the concert, Elvis and his band returned to the empty stage and recorded five more songs: Early Morning Rain, Hawaiian Wedding Song, No More, Ku-U-I-Po, and Blue Hawaii.
Presley is obviously tired, so the recordings are relaxed. There are no attempts at drama or histrionics—just clean, simple readings of a few nice songs. Elvis looks calm and collected, if fatigued. I have included two of the videos to illustrate my point:
No heavy spotlights
These recordings were placed throughout the American version of the special. As the videos above show, Elvis looks good. In fact, he looks better than during the actual performance because he’s not sweating profusely all over the stage!
Because there are no heavy spotlights on him. The stage is bare and he’s just standing there, in the dark, with emptiness all around.
This doesn’t disprove that he was doing whatever pharmaceutical cornucopia he was living on at the time. But the lack of perspiration and Presley’s clam, controlled demeanor does make the argument that he wasn’t over-medicated as many of his detractors claimed.
That is, Elvis didn’t show up f*cked up for one of the biggest events of his career!The stage is bare and Elvis is just standing there, in the dark, with emptiness all around—but not f*cked up on drugs. Click To Tweet
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page is one of the most well-circulated photos of Elvis from the Aloha special on the Internet. What’s there to say but he looks good and he certainly ain’t fat!
1 The movie is titled after one of the group’s recordings, originally released on the vaunted EXILE ON MAIN STREET album in 1972.
2 These figures courtesy of Wikipedia. If correct, they indicate that the movie was modestly successful. The quoted box office take does not include rentals and sales of the DVD.
3 The soundtrack album to Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite was the last Elvis album to top the charts during Presley’s life.