SXSW Panel Recap: Elvis Presley: The Searcher

The King of Rock & Roll’s filmic dreamscape

“You couldn’t plan Elvis Presley,” declared his widow Priscilla Presley, 72. “I’ve had college professors come to me with their theories of why Elvis had the impact he had, trying to explain him to me. And they’re always laughable!”

Priscilla Presley (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

The former Del Valle High student – when her father was stationed at Bergstrom Air Force Base in 1956 – went on to detail the story of her 40-years-deceased first husband, widely declared and unchallenged as the King of Rock & Roll.

“The artist has been lost in the legend,” she lamented.

Toward this end, Thom Zimny, director of acclaimed Bruce Springsteen documentaries, has lensed a three-hour, two-part attempt at what Priscilla called “telling Elvis’ story with sympathy.” Elvis Presley: The Searcher premiered Wednesday at the Zach Scott Theatre for SXSW Film and airs on HBO April 14.

“I wanted to place you in Elvis’ dream,” explained Zimny. “In those Memphis landscapes, in Beale Street, in Graceland. Then, when Elvis occasionally appears in the dream, to explain it.”

The documentary interviews many, including Springsteen and Robbie Robertson, plus Tom Petty and Fifties Presley guitarist Scotty Moore in their last interviews. None interrupt the stream of archival footage, their voices providing narration. Priscilla remarked that this filmic dreamscape especially made vivid stories Elvis told her of Memphis’ black cultural hub Beale Street and how the sights and sounds he’d discovered there as a teenager forever shaped his approach to music and live performance.

One of the film’s unseen narrators, Stax/Volt producer/songwriter Dave Porter, declared Presley an eager R&B student.

“He studied and pursued that culture. He understood that you had to lose yourself in it and be passionate in your musical presentation – the way Jackie Wilson and Roy Hamilton did. Elvis understood the way to authenticity was through emotional connection.”

Featured Session: Elvis Presley: The Searcher

Wednesday, March 14, Austin Convention Center

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at Sign up for our South By-specific newsletter at for news, reviews, and previews delivered to your inbox every day of the Fest. And for the latest tweets, follow @ChronSXSW.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Austin Institution Saxon Pub Survives in SXSW Documentary
Austin Institution Saxon Pub Survives in SXSW Documentary
A glimmer of hope amid Austin development in Nothing Stays the Same: The Story of the Saxon Pub

Doug Freeman, March 8, 2019

Dungeon Family Headlines SXSW’s Free Outdoor Stage
Dungeon Family Headlines SXSW’s Free Outdoor Stage
Big Boi & Co. rolling into Auditorium Shores next Friday

Kevin Curtin, March 4, 2019

More by Tim Stegall
The Glam Punks of 70s Austin Get Up to Their Gypsy Tricks
The Glam Punks of 70s Austin Get Up to Their Gypsy Tricks
The Austin Punk Chronicles, chapter two, part two: Glitter rock (1972-76) fades

Jan. 24, 2020

The Forgotten Era of Glitter Rock in Mid-70s Austin
The Forgotten Era of Glitter Rock in Mid-70s Austin
The Austin Punk Chronicles, chapter two, part one: glam rock (1972-76)

Jan. 17, 2020


Elvis Presley, SXSW Music 2018, SXSW Film 2018, Elvis Presley The Searcher, Priscilla Presley, Thom Zimny, David Porter, Bruce Springsteen, Robbie Robertson, Tom Petty, Scotty Moore

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle