Comeback Special Programme Note
When you watch something as many times as I have watched Elvis Presley’s ’68 Comeback Special – I’ve probably watched it more than a hundred times over the past two years – you start to develop an intimate, familiar relationship with it. I haven’t had this kind of relationship with a video since Pee-wee’s Big Adventure in 1989.
The ’68 Comeback Special was considered groundbreaking for its authenticity. Most of it was meant to feel like a relaxed jam session. In a way, my repeated viewings started to trip this authenticity into something completely inauthentic. It wasn’t that it was any less powerful or impressive, but more and more I started to become aware of how constructed it seemed. The looped watching pattern made everything predictable and fake.
This interest in fakeness brought about by repetition led me to an interest in re-enactment and the book Performing Remains by Rebecca Schneider. She writes:
“To trouble linear temporality – to suggest that time may be touched, crossed, visited or revisited, that time is transitive and flexible, that time may recur in time, that time is not one – never only one – is to court the ancient (and tired) Western anxiety over ideality and originality. The threat of theatricality is still the threat of the imposter status of the copy, the double, the mimetic, the second, the surrogate, the feminine, or the queer.”
Pretty much any film holds syncopated timelines. There’s the time when each individual shot was filmed, so that each scene or sequence is edited to look like a continuous timeline even though it’s made up of several singular timelines. Then there’s the overall time period it took to make the film, which normally spans days or months. And there’s the timespan it takes to watch the finished film, which can recur as many times as one cares to watch it and can happen over and over again throughout the course of a life.
The ’68 Comeback Special straddled the filmed and the live; it was pre-filmed, but there was a major TV broadcast, which in many ways was a live event. When we’re working in a live theatrical event rather than film, maybe re-enactment allows us the possibility to work in syncopated timelines rather than just the singular running time that dominates the idea of liveness. It’s less possible to make that syncopation invisible with slick editing, but maybe it means we can more consciously hold a plurality of contradictory ideas all at once. Maybe through the peculiar theatricality of a sort of re-enactment, we can touch something. It’s not the original Comeback Special, but it’s not not.
Greg Wohead, March 2016