Are You Not Entertained? Elvis, Foo Fighters, and John Coltrane

Here are some recent music documentaries that enthralled me.

This year, HBO released Elvis Presley: The Searcher in two parts totaling three hours of exploration of the complicated man behind the music and his checkered history. To those of us who listened to his records as they were released and have seen his corny films and watched many tributes to him, this doc might not provide enough insights that you didn’t already know. To those who barely remember him or have only heard the name but not his story, this is a fine documentary showcasing his influences in Memphis, his devotion to his mother, his suffocating relationship with the Colonel, his love for Gospel, and his rise to iconic stature with the outrageous costumes and over-the-top shows in the 1970s. I preferred part one and how his stamp of individuality helped black music to air on white radio. It was not a conscious civil rights decision on Presley’s part, but his voice and songs sounded black; his popularity soared and endorsed subliminally the acceptance of blacks in a white world. From the eyes of a social historian, it was a refreshing revisit of King of Rock and Roll and his importance in time. 4.5/5.

Foo Fighters Back and Forth (2011) by James Moll. My son and I listened to them on road trips in the 1990s. He bought me their albums through the 2000s and the 2010s. I’m going to see them in October when they play in Phoenix. So, with so much emotional baggage attached to the group, can I be objective about the musicianship and lyrics by the leader of the band, Dave Grohl? Why, yes I can. Especially Dave Grohl’s songs of heartbreak. He’s my age, and as he gets older, his albums get softer, and I like that, too. If you were never a fan in the first place, I doubt you would care about Grohl and his band or the background behind their albums. If you like their songs, you’ll enjoy the documentary. It’s a subjective thing. 5/5.

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary (2017) directed by John Scheinfeld is a remarkable documentary regarding the life and music of the legendary saxophonist. I didn’t know a lot about Coltrane other than listening to Giant Steps (1960) and A Love Supreme (1965). His childhood and troubles were foreign to me. His relationship with Miles Davis and how those in the industry who knew and played with Coltrane was fascinating. In particular, how do you explain the creative genius of the man? Color imagery to explain how he thought outside the box was a clever touch. Coltrane was magical. He takes one chord and maximizes the notes via improvisation. I’m not a musician, just a lover of it, so when those that know claim he invented a new language of music, I’m sitting forward to understand how. This documentary did that. 4.5/5. 

61 thoughts on “Are You Not Entertained? Elvis, Foo Fighters, and John Coltrane

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  1. OK. Not a huge fan of Elvis, (outside of Suspicious Minds of course) and I have zero interest in the Foo Fighters. Put that down to my age, perhaps? But Coltrane, now you are getting there, Cindy. 🙂 x
    Best wishes, Pete. x

  2. Great post 🙂 I was impressed by that Elvis Presley documentary and by all the interviewees comments regarding his actual persona, which is really fascinating. The Foo Fighters and John Coltrane documentaries look great and I can’t wait to see them. Speaking of music, did you ever see Jonathan Demme’s 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense with David Byrne and The Talking Head performing on stage? That is just amazing. Please check that out 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    1. Hi John. I’m glad you agree and like the Presley documentary. I have heard of the doc you suggested but never got around watching. Thanks for reminding me. I like David Byrne and The Talking Heads. Thank you for stopping by to comment today.

  3. I am not a big fan of either Elvis (can’t believe there’s an emoticon just popped up for him when I wrote his name) or Foo Fighters but the history side of them appeal to me, I know a bit, but not all so would be good to fill in the blanks. Know nothing about Coltrane. Cheers Cindy, good stuff!

    1. Oh, my, well for history’s sake, go for Elvis and Coltrane, for sure. I love the Foo Fighters music, but they don’t have the same influence and respect as the former two. Intellectually, I would recommend Coltrane first. Elvis is fun.

    1. Howdy, John. No, I haven’t seen the doc about Ginger. I do like Cream, so that’s one I’ll have to watch. If you liked the intelligent Elvis documentary, I know you’d like the lates John Coltrane offering. Sometimes, documentaries just claim whoever is a genius and all-that without explaining how and why they were. That drives me crazy.

  4. Some of Elvis’ work is so good other artists may well fear to interpret it – it will always be measured against him. He was a truly Great singer – no doubt of that. Lived with a Coltrane fan. That wasn’t easy. Don’t know anything about the Foo Fighters?

    1. I love Elvis’s voice. His ballads are my favorite. I like Coltrane softly in the background. Foo Fighters I would have been surprised if you liked them, JC. They are alternative rock and on the loud side. Great for road trips!
      Glad you made it back safely from your trip.

  5. I grew up with Presley records and the change it bought first to America and then to the rest of the Western world. He is still an Icon and each year in this country, at least, there is a Presley reunion in which look alike dress up imitators dance their dances and sing their songs for a few days before returning to reality for a while. He was a complicated person as various biographies and documentaries seek to understand him.

    1. Yes! I love David G. I just bought my tickets–row 12, off to the side of the stage. It’s a small theater, so should feel intimate and exciting. My son and I will watch it together. I can’t wait.

      1. Fantastic! A lot of good songs including Evergreen which David Letterman enjoyed when he was recovering from his bypass surgery and which closed out his final The Late Show.

  6. Cindy, thank you for drawing attention to these documentaries. Elvis and Coltrane are the giants who have inspired and guided me through my own musical journeys, Elvis since I was five years old and coltrane since I was fifteen. Although the Elvis documentary was a sprawling mess, the weight of his genius shown through every disastrous sequence. How could anyone not love seeing these clips again, however badly they were recycled? Most of the interviews were terrible, ad the interviewees poorly identified. There were some valid observations from Springsteen, some sentimental icing from Priscilla and outright stupidity from tom Petty, As biography it was hopelessly insuffience, with huge gaps and obfuscations making for a choppy polr f revisionist hogwash. But Elvs shined through ti all, and there were a few pearls to be had. Pne essential point that was made was that, although Elvis didnt write the songs, it was Elvis who made the music. but the thing I am most thankful for is the sequence on the making of his final abum, I had never heard of this album before and immediately got hold of i and have been listening to it over and over. It is one of the masterpieces of popular music, Elvis greatest artistic triumph. I will write at length about it later, but for now can only say that this is the real Elvis is either fon who, having lost everything, is also freed of everything, and pours out his soul in a voice that ranges from fon juan in hell to faust in paradise. The Coltrane doc is much better, the only detriment being the off the wall, ignorant remarks made by bill clinton that truly bring down the integrity of the undertaking, The rest of the interviews are exceptional, and the musical clips are breathtaking. It was too short, though. and only scratches the surface of his life and music.

    1. Hi, Bill! Oh, I’m glad you liked the Coltrane documentary. I thought it visually stunning, but yes, it only scratched the surface. For me, it was a fine introduction to the man since I didn’t know much. With regards to the Elvis documentary, I felt the man came through the shell and I felt his essence and brilliance. A neat trick, actually. I loved the clips. I felt sad for him in the 60s with his complicated relationship with the Colonel. I really admire his work ethic. My mom told me last week she went to a museum somewhere and learned that his half sun bejeweled costumes from the 70s were a direct result of Elvis meeting Liberace.
      Anyway, I remember the satellite show as a girl. The doc stressed the gospel influence and that was something I appreciated.
      Glad you found some joy in the revisit and love his last album.

      1. the doc was unfair to his 50s work, especially his movies, half a dozen of which are excellent, and a dozen of them being the inspiration that set the style, structure, and tone for most of the 50s drive in teensplotation, particularly the beach party movies,, it wasnt until 1965 that they got bad, and that was mstly because the colonel wouldn sped mney on songs or scrits, knowing that a good presley movie wouldnt make any more money than a bd one. incidentally, i wasnt only streisand who wanted elvis for a star is born. the whole package was designed for barbra and elvis, but the colonel wouldnt let him do it.

        1. All news to me. Thanks for the clarification. You are right about boxing up all his films into the bad chapter of his life. Six that are excellent. Which ones are those? Yes, they should have linked his influence to teensploitation.

  7. loving you, jailhouse rock, king creole, flaming star, kid galahad, wild in the country….the really good ones that set the tone for the beach party movies etc include blue hawaii, girls girls girls, and viva las vegas

          1. one think that irked me in the doc was they guy who annouced that king creole was dirrected by michale curtiz, who had directed the classic casablanca, as it that were some great revelation or pronouncement. flaming star was directed by don siegel, one of hollywoods greatest directors. kid galahad by phil karlson, the best of the noir directors, jailhouse rock directed by richard thorpe, who was no slouch either. several a list directors worked with elvis, and the doc treated king creole as a one off.

          2. I see your point. I bet these directors were anxious to work with Elvis, too, knowing they would be popular with audiences. I think Elvis could have been a very good actor with the right influence. He was malleable and willing to please.

          3. he was at his best in king creole. even in his blue hawaii character, he was way better than frankie avalon and all those oter teen idols who appeared in movies. had he started with the rainmaker, as planned, he may well have become a top line actor, but im glad he didnt. by the way, are you interested in hearing about my four connections to elvis?

          4. Well, sure! Tell me all about it.
            I just watched a movie and I’m so mad. It stars Jessica Chastain and the movie is “Woman Walk Forward”. It’s poorly made–the editing was choppy, the decision to use slow motion made key scenes awkward instead of important, the inconsistency of the filming drove me nuts. Chastain’s horrible NY accent, and Sitting Bull, who was a hot 40-something who spoke Lakota perfectly but spoke English too perfectly and the inferred love interest instead of getting an actor who was 60 was all wrong. It’s too bad because the skies, the natural photography, the sparkling clean costumes were beautiful. The movie is about a NY socialite-widow who was a painter and rode out to ND to paint Sitting Bull. While that’s true, the script glossed over events and no real story was told. Sigh.
            It should have been a good movie. But it wasn’t.

          5. havent herd of the chastain movie. sounds terible. thanks for the warning. now watching curtiz original 1937 kid galahad. elvs wanted him for the remake. interesting to see what elvis might have seen in the movie and character and how his own ambitions relate to it. my elvis connections.. me and another guy took out the drywall and fiberglass insulation from the bel air mansion that he lived in while in hollywood making movies……an ex girlfriend of mine was previousl red west’s *one of elvis’s bodygaurds) birlfriends. another ex girlfriends father saw elvis in 1956 and hs date was so excited that she drew blood from his thigh right through his pants by gripping him so fiercely with her fingernails. a friend of mine, jeff morris, played elvis’ nemesis in kid galahad. i thought of you hile watching two recent movies i thnnk you would like. edge of the city . john cassavettes and sidney portier in a poor mans on the waterfront. the incident. a remarkable movie featuring martin sheen in his first movie as well as a number of legendary character actors. two psychos terrorize everyone in a subway car in nyc. it might be an old routine, but i promise you have never seen anything like it.

          6. Okay! Sounds great. I’ve not seen it, but who doesn’t love Sidney P. and it’s always fun to watch stars in their first films. Great!
            So close to your hero! Who knew ex-girlfriends could be so useful? 😉
            I’ll watch Kid Galahad and Edge of the City soon.
            I’m working on a tie-in post regarding The Birds with hopes you will like it.

          7. I thought I’d keep it simple with tying the story back to the author and Hitchcock. I haven’t listened to Elvis’s last album. You should write a post about it. 😉

          8. i look forward to reading it, although i believe the birds is the only film that validated htchcock as an artist, and has little to do with the du maurier story.

          9. I haven’t read the story. I’m right in the middle of Jamaica Inn and The Bird is next. There’s a television series called Jamaica Inn. I have hopes it’s interesting enough. Hitchcock loved Rebecca, and so I wanted to see I couldn’t blend all this together into a single post. Stay tuned!

          10. i liked the book jamaica inn but dont remember much about the movie, so im going to watch it tonight. i know that i disliked rebecca, as it was more a selznick than a hitchcock movie, and hitchcock suffered so much under the producers thumb that he all but disowned the movie. i sure would like to get hold of the original script hitchcock had submitted and selznick outright rejected.

    1. I thought it interesting that Elvis would have rather been a serious actor than a singer. With a voice like that! He was handcuffed for most of his life. But, the loneliness and hardships made him saintly. I absolutely believe his authentic personality and love of people made him great.

      1. he wasnt good enough as an actor. he had his chance with wild in the coutry, and just want up there with brando and dean. as a singer, he was the best. and he is a saint. perhaps the only one the protestacolous visitations which have changed their lives. just as jesus gave humanity its soul, and hamlet its mind, elvis restored our bodies. his physical energy continues to invigorate a humanuty that threatens to decline into asexual indifference.

  8. Very interesting post. I love these artists. Very eclectic choices. It is sad how Elvis is only lampooned these days. Yes his later career song choices were less than inspired and the jumpsuits were really bad but, good grief, his early stuff was iconic and the 68 comeback TV special…Wow!
    I love the Foo fighters. Huge Dave Grohl fan. He’s just the coolest guy. He’s like the epitome of the anti-rockstar. I mean that as a huge compliment.

    1. Great! I’m glad there’s another David Grohl fan out there with me. If you haven’t seen the documentary, you will love it. His warmth and sincere personality really shines. I think he’d be a lot of fun to talk to. I agree with you about Elvis. He was a beautiful man!

    1. WELL, the Elvis doc is a great way to introduce you to him. He’s very important in 20th-century history. I think you’ll like it. The Coltrane doc is wonderful and intellectual. Hope you get to see them soon, Jordan. 🙂

      1. yeah, considering my heavy interest in all music AND history, its odd that he seems to be one of few who I know next to nothing about. I can’t think of another actually. Perhaps because I haven’t really enjoyed the perhaps three Elvis songs I have ever heard, which is a bit silly now that I write that. One to pop on the watchlist for sure

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