Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Elvis Lives and Breathes. Apparently.

You may know about the new "Elvis Duets" CD (released November '08), that features duets with Elvis and current artists created in the studio by using digital tools (when Bono sang with Sinatra in 1995 without ever meeting in the same studio it was news). Martina MacBride has gone one better, and offers this "remix" of Elvis's performance of "Blue Christmas" from his '68 "comeback" special.

This is problematic. I don't call myself the biggest Elvis fan, but the integrity of this footage has been profoundly changed in order to sell us a new singer. This isn't just cutting to (or into) archival scenes, it's intrusion into historical documentation. People familiar with this televised concert knows it has a historical and cultural context outside the mere depiction of Elvis singing a couple songs. His nervousness, the intentional staging in close quarters with his fans, the general status of his career previous to this, and band members who were positioned as equals rather than mere backup, all say volumes about what gave this event and the footage its power.

His performance and demeanor are irrevocably altered by the intrusion of a singer standing next to him who was not there (or here on earth) 40 years ago. This is a step closer to the "bringing Humphrey Bogart back to life" future that James Cameron is salivating for.

I understand that new generations have a different relationship to this footage than people who actually lived through it. They may have similar concerns in 40 years when someone is painting a digital moustache on their cultural icons in 2048.

Or, they may not. Because their cultural icons may not exist in some original pristine and culturally specific state. Their meaning may be in flux through the stream of culture and of time, and any additions or deletions will be considered acceptable and expected wear (let's call it patina) as new generations and technology reappropriate old material to make it new.

Well, not new. But different. In a way, Elvis did the same thing back in 1955 with blues music.


A shorter version of this post appeared on the AMIA Students of Westwood site: http://amiastudentsofwestwood.blogspot.com/).


steve said...

For a pile of money, you can be a space tourist... how much will it cost to "play the tables" at Rick's? How much to sing with the Beatles?

some OTHER Steve said...

Movie tourism could be the next big industry; at one end you'ld have a date with Christina Ricci, for the aging baby boomer who can't afford Hard Day's Night, a ticket for the Magical Mystery Tour.
This could revolutionize porn too.