Elvis (2022)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on June 28, 2022 @ tonymacklin.net.

The target audience for Elvis is people who don't go to the movies anymore. They could come back to relive their past.

For much of the younger audience Elvis Presley is as dead as Don Ameche. How do you include them in your audience?

Director/writer Baz Luhrmann, with three other writers, tries to widen his gaudy scope. He creates an opulent jumble. One of his major choices is his assemblage of music and musicians.

He is fortunate in the casting of Australian actor Austin Butler, who captures the manner and vocal power of Elvis. Luhrmann also includes covers that relate to the work of Presley. He uses 47-year-old Jack White and 49-year-old Eminem, now both are middle-aged.

He also uses younger artists such as 26-year-old Doja Cat who alludes to "Hound Dog" in her song "Vegas," and 33-year-old Kacey Musgraves who covers "Can't Help Falling in Love." There is music for all ages from all ages.

Even an older audience doesn't have much sense of Colonel Tom Parker. They don't know what he looked like. They may have a little sense of the effects of his oppressive efforts.

Tom Hanks narrates and portrays the crucial figure of Parker. In a fat suit and make-up, Hanks gives us an image of the elusive manager. At times he may be reminiscent of Orson Welles in Touch of Evil (1958).

Parker was not from the South. He was born in the Netherlands, and illegally immigrated to the United States when he was 20. Hanks employs an odd accent that may disquiet some viewers.

Parker discovered and molded Elvis. He tried to keep him simple. He limited his range. He had a meal ticket, but he didn't have a passport so he never allowed Elvis to go on the international tour that he wanted.

Parker did not want Elvis to do serious acting. Sinatra did, and gave memorable performances, but Parker wanted Elvis to just do commercial money-makers.

The one time Elvis played a serious role was in his 5th movie, Flaming Star (1960), in which he played a half-breed. He worked with director Don Siegel. The studio wanted Elvis to sing 10 songs in the film, but Siegel resisted and ultimately used only two, one with the credits.

An interesting comparison is Elvis and Clint Eastwood. Don Siegel directed both - Elvis once and Clint five times, including Dirty Harry (1971). If Elvis had stayed with Siegel, who knows what an actor he might have become. Dirty Aron.

In his autobiography Siegel said, "Presley surprised me with his sensitivity as an actor." He went on to say, "Colonel Parker was wrong on two counts: Elvis could have been an acting star, not just a singing star; also he would have been happier."

Siegel tells how Presley gave him his new Rolls Royce for two weeks if he'd allow him to rehearse more to get a scene right. That's the commitment of an artist.

Hanks says, "The Colonel represents the sell... the promotion."

In a strong sense Luhrmann and Hanks made Parker a character who would succeed today. He's a con man for the ages. He was a carnie/con man who was transactional. Forget pursuing quality. Go with appearance.

I kept thinking of 2022 as I saw the film.

Basically, for better or worse, Elvis is a Baz Luhrmann film. He directed Moulin Rouge (2001) with awkward panache. That's also true of Elvis.

But he also keeps Elvis Presley alive. At the end of the 2 hour 39 minute extravaganza, Luhrmann cuts to footage of the actual Elvis singing "Unchained Melody." It's vibrant and powerful.

Unfortunately, throughout their careers, Colonel Parker carried a heavy chain.

Only the voice of Elvis was able to transcend it.

© 2000-2023 Tony Macklin