"I take orders from the Octoboss."


Any musician biopic, pretty much, is gonna be a legend or a tall tale. What’s great about Baz Luhrmann directing one is that his entire style leans into that. Condensing a whole life and career into an entertaining 2 1/2 hours requires shortcuts, cheats and artistic license that prevent it from being literally true, so here we have a director whose work is rarely about the literal truth anyway. It’s more about how something feels and looks and sounds, or making it look and sound like it feels. Biopics depend on montages to move quickly across time, and this guy speaks fluent montage. He’s also a director whose films have generally been on the verge of being jukebox musicals (going all the way in the case of MOULIN ROUGE!). So what could be more perfect for him than an Elvis Presley biopic?

ELVIS is absolutely presented as a legend, one told by Presley’s long time manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks, DRAGNET), who admits “there are some who’d make me out to be the villain of this here story,” and in between his justifications does come off as something of an evil mastermind. He addresses us decades after Elvis has passed, when he’s on his own death bed in a Las Vegas hospital room with a view of Star Trek: The Experience (1998-2008), but in his mind he’s also dragging his I.V. drip around an empty casino.

I vaguely remember Pat Hingle as Parker in the John Carpenter/Kurt Russell Elvis mini-series, and I know Paul Giamatti was gonna play him if they’d made the BUBBA HO-TEP sequel, but I didn’t really know anything about him. I got curious enough to do a little basic reading after seeing Guillermo del Toro’s early praise for ELVIS, where he noted a connection to the original NIGHTMARE ALLEY, which he said was Parker’s favorite film.

I hadn’t known Parker was a circus elephant groomer and ran palm reading tents and dancing chicken acts before becoming a manager of country singers (Gene Austin, Eddy Arnold, Minnie Pearl). Or that he was from Holland (pretending to be from West Virginia), or that his lack of citizenship (plus enormous gambling debts) may have been why he talked Elvis out of international touring and into years of Las Vegas residency, precipitating career decline and premature death. That’s exactly what this story focuses on: the proud carny con-man – or as he calls it, “snow man” – trying to snow us that it wasn’t that bad that he snowed Elvis.

(Not mentioned in the movie: He mysteriously ditched his family and belongings in the Netherlands right when a never-solved murder happened yards from his house!?)

I saw somebody say ELVIS was good for a post-WALK HARD music biopic, and it took me aback. I had a hard time thinking of it being in that category. It’s true, of course, that the script (credited to Luhrmann & Sam Bromell and Luhrmann’s longtime writing partner Craig Pearce and Jeremy Doner [The Killing]) hits many of the same beats that any movie attempting to summarize the career of a rock star hits. But it’s not one of those ones that feels like a book report with concert re-enactments. It revels in being a movie. As you’d expect from the director of ROMEO + JULIET and MOULIN ROUGE!, it can be stylistically bombastic and gleefully unreserved in its choices. It opens and closes with gaudy bejeweled titles and end credits, appropriate for either Elvis or Luhrmann, and in between are some pretty wild swings. I’m not saying it’s total chaos, but I am saying there’s a part where the sample from “Toxic” by Britney Spears pops up in the middle of an Elvis song. I had to look it up to learn there’s also a Backstreet Boys song in there, so it must be drawing a parallel between Elvis and teen pop phenomenons of more recent eras? I’m not sure, but my point is that the weight of history does not stop Luhrmann from being Luhrmann. Which I believe is the correct attitude.

A childhood flashback begins with comic book panels, because young Elvis loves comic books… but more than that because it’s a super hero origin. As one of the only white kids living near the Tupelo neighborhood called Shake Rag, Elvis wears a Captain Marvel Jr. lightning bolt around his neck as he and his buddies run between a shack-sized speakeasy and a nearby revival tent, spying on the greatest blues and gospel a kid could ever accidentally encounter. Then he feels the spirit and wiggles on into the tent as if possessed, foreshadowing the whole lotta shakin that will be goin on in his future.

Man, Chaydon Jay, the kid playing young Elvis, has a hell of a resemblance. And Austin Butler (YOGA HOSERS), who plays him the rest of the time, does an incredible job. I knew him from ONCE UPON A TIME …IN HOLLYWOOD and THE DEAD DON’T DIE, and thought he was a good choice when I heard he was cast, but he’s better than I could’ve guessed. I’m not sure what they did with his makeup to make him look so much more like Elvis than he normally does, or if it’s just an illusion because he gets the vibe of the guy so right. The posture, the moves, the squint, the shifting accents and voices at different periods. Reportedly Butler does the singing when he’s younger, and then it’s real recordings later, but I didn’t pick up on which was which, so it was never distracting.

What I’m sure will be distracting to some people is Hanks’ weird performance. He wears age makeup, sometimes jowls, a pear-shaped body suit, and exaggerates the strangeness of Parker’s accent affected southern accent. For me it works. A strange carnival barker with a clown-head cane who knew how to make Elvis a star but not always when to get out of his way and let him be himself; who thinks coming up with the concept of merchandising absolves him of lying, stealing and manipulating. Having just this one character be so broad makes all the ostentatiousness around him seem down to earth.

Also it’s a respectable use of Hanks’ star power to get this thing made. There are a couple other familiar faces, but not ones with names to put on a poster. Kodi Smit-McPhee (THE ROAD) is funny as Jimmie Rodgers Snow, son of Hank Snow (David Wenham, VAN HELSING) who convinces Colonel Parker to check out Elvis, Luke Bracey (INTERCEPTOR) plays Elvis’s buddy Jerry Schilling, and Xavier Samuel (Bernard Rose’s FRANKENSTEIN) plays band member Scotty Moore.

I saw a claim that the movie underplays the influence of country music on Elvis, and that seems true to me (though they mention country stations not playing him because he sounds Black and Black stations not playing him because he sounds like a hillbilly). But seeing as how we’ve already had numerous Elvis movies and TV shows that didn’t go heavy into his blues and gospel roots, I think this is a good choice. And I’m sure it comes from recognizing that for many in 2022 Elvis is the poster boy for white people stealing Black music.

You can think of that what you want. The movie, the character, and quotes from the real man all acknowledge industry advantages of being white. It’s undeniable that he got paid more than Little Richard, got more money and attention for “Hound Dog” and “Mystery Train” than the earlier versions by Big Mama Thornton and Little Junior Parker, etc. Resentment is justified.

(They also underline this point by giving an end credits song to Eminem, who has been accused of the same. “I stole Black music, yeah true,” he says trollishly, and explains “all the parallels between Elvis and me” as “he’s pale as me… we both been hailed as kings… we sell like Velveeta shells and cheese.” I guess I hoped he’d have something deeper to say about all that.)

But I think the movie adds nuance to the conversation by showing Elvis as not a scheming culture vulture, but a sincere artist putting his own spin on the music he grew up loving, and defying the white establishment’s rejection of it. Consider that in 1953, the year 18-year-old Elvis went into Sun Records and recorded his first two songs (both covers of the doo-wop group The Ink Spots), the top ten singles of the year included one by Eddie Fisher, two by Perry Como, and “How Much is That Doggie in the Window?” by Patti Page. That was what most white people were listening to on the radio at that time! Elvis was obviously not a part of that world, and when the people who were accused him of corrupting white kids with dangerous “race music” rhythms, he basically told them to fuck off. Hard to fault him there.

One of my favorite moments in the movie is when he’s on Memphis’ Beale Street watching through a window as Big Mama Thornton (Shonka Dukureh) sings the shit out of “Hound Dog” – I thought wow, yeah, her version is better than his, and it wasn’t even her real version – then as he’s walking down the street a trap beat comes in over the song, and then a rapper (apparently Doja Cat). Colonel Parker sometimes takes license to skip around in time in his story, and here the soundtrack jumps several generations of Black music from Elvis’ inspiration to today. It’s an audacious Luhrmann touch that many will find ludicrous, and they won’t be wrong. In context I found it kinda magical.

The author (and writer of CB4) Nelson George worked as a researcher and consultant for ELVIS. He told the Gaslit Nation podcast

that he tracked down people who grew up with Elvis, who said he was “an outlier” and “the little weird white kid at the Black tent shows.” As shown in the movie, Elvis attended Black churches (as an act of rebellion, George believes), went to blues clubs, befriended B.B. King (Kelvin Harrison Jr., THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7) and Little Richard (Alton Mason), told people who called him “the King” that he’d never be as good as Fats Domino. And maybe I’m wrong but I doubt many other white singers at that time were talking about idolizing Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (who he watches in the childhood scene, portrayed by Gary Clark Jr.). I don’t think it was his intention to steal anyone’s thunder, and many of those artists considered him a friend and respected his music.

There’s a mention in the movie of breaking segregation laws – it may refer to newspaper reports from 1956 that he attended the Memphis Fairgrounds on “colored night” and appeared at an otherwise segregated fundraiser held by WDIA, a Black radio station he loved. There’s a detail in the movie that I don’t think I’ve seen in any other movie about Elvis – a big outdoor concert has “colored” sections at the sides. When the audience goes wild for his defiance of an order not to do any of that obscene dancing, the borders between the sections seem to break down.

If I had to make a list of the top 5 things we always heard about Elvis growing up, the “only filmed from the waist up on Ed Sullivan” thing would definitely be on there. So I like that they don’t bother with that, despite focusing heavily on the moral panic of his thrusty dancing. When an unknown Elvis performs at a live radio broadcast called the Louisiana Hayride, some jock asshole yells “Get a haircut, fairy!,” if you’re wondering how people might’ve reacted to the iconic look of Elvis before there was an iconic look of Elvis. To the dismay of that guy and many other men in attendance, a nuclear war of feminine sexual energy breaks out in that crowd when Elvis starts singing and shaking his hips. We’re familiar with the screaming/fainting fan imagery of the era, but Luhrmann and cinematographer Mandy Walker (JANE GOT A GUN, HIDDEN FIGURES, MULAN) make it feel fresh, moving in close on the faces of individual women in the crowd as they comically struggle and fail to contain the waves of lust overcoming them.

When Colonel Parker sees it he likens it to the mix of excitement and guilt carnival marks feel watching a geek show – this is the NIGHTMARE ALLEY connection, and the reason Parker really gave for believing Elvis could be a star. Later there’s a funny scene where some politician blowhard notices the hip shaking on the TV and flips out. From his viewpoint he may not see that his daughter and son seem to be experiencing some intense feelings about the performance.

(Politicians like that will haunt us forever, it seems.)

If you’re hoping the movie will deal with how young Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge, THE VISIT) was when she met Elvis, abandon that hope. Not mentioned. It treats her as the love of his life, but moves quickly past marriage and parenting to his cheating and feeling of failure when she leaves him. When my favorite Elvis song (and go-to karaoke jam) “Suspicious Minds” finally pops up, it seems to be commenting not on his marriage, but his business relationship with Colonel Parker. I guess this is the Colonel telling the story, after all. That’s all that matters to him.

The thing I was hoping they would cover that they did not was his 8th degree black belt in Kenpo Karate. If ever there was an Elvis biopic where it would make sense to throw in a long choreographed karate battle out of nowhere, it seems like this would be the one. And if not now, when? I think we got one shot of him doing moves, and they did make reference to a “kung fu spectacular” in the ’68 Comeback Special, which would be this fight scene set to “It Hurts Me”:

Doesn’t that make you wish he made just one ass kicking karate movie at some point? With or without songs? I guess with would be more novel, but I’d take either one. That would be a better world to live in. Anyway, I’m hoping Butler would be up for an all karate DTV midquel. Also BUBBA HO-TEP prequel trilogy. Think about it, Austin.

Something I’d recommend, either on its own or as a companion piece to ELVIS, is The Get Down, the 2017 Netflix series that Luhrmann co-created and directed the pilot for, very much in his style. It’s a story about fictional teenage rappers and disco artists in the South Bronx of the late ‘70s, celebrating the music and style of the time and place with idealized hindsight and some anachronistic cheats. It’s part WEST SIDE STORY, part crime drama, part mythologizing of early hip hop history as the stuff of comic books and kung fu movies. There are animated segments. When they explain the five boroughs it’s like a map in the back of a Tolkien book. Grandmaster Flash (Mamoudou Athie, JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION) acts as sifu to fictional DJ Shaolin Fantastic and the Get Down Brothers. The real Grandmaster Flash was an executive producer, along with Nas, Kurtis Blow and DJ Kool Herc.

It’s also an incredible collection of charismatic young actors: Justice Smith before JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM, Shameik Moore before INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II before AQUAMAN, US, CANDYMAN, THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS and AMBULANCE, Jaden Smith getting to play a nice weirdo kid, and it will make you love Herizen F. Guardiola, who I’m surprised hasn’t gotten many roles off of it, but maybe she’s more into singing.

The Get Down was Netflix’s most expensive show at the time, and it was considered a flop (whatever that means for a streaming service), but I’m grateful they shelled out the dough for it. And I figured ELVIS was gonna be a similar deal. He’s a subject that has already been heavily covered, but has become more loaded over time, while relevant to fewer people. His likeness is so omnipresent that almost anyone could identify him, but he has about as much meaning to many of them as Mickey Mouse. So I really thought Baz had pulled a snowman and tricked Warner Brothers into spending a bunch of money they’d never get back, but it actually seems to be doing pretty good so far (it opened at #1).

I think ELVIS and The Getdown are interesting works for some of the same reasons: they’re American cultural mythology seen through the eyes of an outsider, a white Australian director and former ballroom dancer who also does operas and musicals and has adapted Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald and makes all of these things seem of a piece. The world of Elvis is perfect for him. He did 1899 Moulin Rouge, of course he’s gonna want to do 1969-1977 Las Vegas Hilton.

If someone were to say this is too long, as someone always says of every movie ever made, I wouldn’t disagree too strongly. Maybe it wouldn’t be bad to condense some of the Vegas section. But hell, I like it how it is, and I’d forgive a whole lot just for the hauntingly beautiful last scene, which brilliantly reframes the conventional view of Elvis’ last days.

It involves a performance not long before his death – the period people always joke about. Parker says he could barely walk, and we see someone leading him to his piano. He looks very different – his face puffy, no shades to cover his drugged out eyes. We’re close on the face of this almost unrecognizable, shockingly unhealthy Elvis, covered in sweat even though he’s sitting down, two large Coca-Cola cups on top of his piano, would seem close to keeling over even if we hadn’t been told that that’s exactly what he’s about to do.

But from deep inside the inescapable chamber of his failing body comes that voice, singing the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody.” In the framing of Parker, as narrator, the “my darling” whose love Elvis needs is us, the audience, who he did everything for. But what I find moving about the scene is that it takes all the flippant “fat Elvis” and “dying on the toilet” jokes head on. It says yes, it’s true, this is what he became, through addiction and indulgence. Not a joke, a tragedy. But at the same time it offers him the dignity of showing that even at the very end, the very bottom, he still had it. The scene begins with Butler in makeup, but we’re hearing Elvis’s real voice, performing in 1977, less than two months before his death, and at some point that I didn’t notice it transitions to the real footage, with the real audience reacting. And it is stunning.

Yeah, I think I kinda love this movie. It’s not just good for a music biopic. This is something special.

This entry was posted on Monday, July 4th, 2022 at 7:18 am and is filed under Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

50 Responses to “Elvis”

  1. Man, I wish I would like Luhrmann better than I actually do. He always comes across as a guy who would make really cool movies, if he would be able to focus a little bit. MOULIN ROUGE is one of the very few movies that I simply couldn’t finish and it’s the only one, because the whole thing was too creative. Up to the point where it was all just a bunch of random noise thrown on screen. And while one part of me is kinda glad that an MTV Shakespeare movie exists, it’s also impossible to take seriously, because everything is in best 90s fashion EXTREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEME TO DA MAX!

    If there is a reason for the studio executive, who tells the brillant director to tone down his style and tell him not to do certain things, to exist, it surely is Baz Luhrmann. Julie Taymore he ain’t.

  2. Obviously the part about MTV Shakespeare was about his ROMEO & JULIET, but I’m sure you got that.

  3. I like Elvis’s music, particularly the much derided later years (my go-to jam is “Kentucky Rain,” but I recently discovered the GOOD TIMES album and found it to be a banger all the way through) but I find him singularly uninteresting as a person. I believe he was sincere in all his obsessions and eccentricities (cynicism and manipulation are tools a coddled man-child like himself would never have to develop) but mostly I just think of him as a useful idiot who was in the right place at the right time and lacked the self-awareness and strength of character to survive his own success. That’s not a character arc I know how to give a shit about. I guess it’s no wonder that Forrest Gump himself chose to narrate his story.

  4. I have liked Elvis and his music from my childhood. I named my first car Elvis, claiming it was The King. It was a Ford Escort with no tape deck or AC. It was not The King. I was a little hesitant about seeing this one because his story is inherently tragic and Baz likes to lean in to the heartbreak. I have been avoiding sad things in my entertainment for awhile because I’m trying to escape the horribleness in our world. But I was really glad I saw this. It was sad but in a way that worked for me.

    It took a bit for me to really get into it though. At some point I thought to myself, are we going to get any actual scenes. Like sustained dialogue of characters doing something. Or is it all going to be montages, cartoons, and vignettes. I think the part that finally won me over was the concert where Parker wanted him to reign it in and Elvis said fuck that and doubled down.

    And Butler was amazing. Like you Vern, I couldn’t tell when he was actually singing and when he was lip syncing the real Elvis but I never once doubted his performances.

    I like Baz’s style. I can see how it’s not for everyone and not every single choice he makes works for me but I like it overall and enjoy that he’s doing something different. You’re right that he was perfect for an Elvis biopic. My biggest complaint is getting rid of the histrionic backup vocals on In The Ghetto as the credits rolled. Although perhaps that wasn’t up to him since it was a mashup.

  5. I was mixed on this one but seeing some of the more positive takes on it has me softening a bit. I was really enjoying myself for the early portion of the movie but felt myself disconnecting from it as it went on. I think the Hanks performance is the key here. If it clicks for you I think it carries you through the whole thing, but I found myself ping ponging a bit with it.

  6. So, not a racist, a sucker, simple or plain then?

    I wish I liked Luhrmann’s recent films more. Although THE GREAT GATSBY is 9 years ago now, so clearly recent is a relative term here; the guy is not Takashi Miike. I appreciate what he’s trying to do, and I know I’m in favour of somebody trying to do it, but starting with MOULIN ROUGE his movies just haven’t connected with me. At the time I put that down to my antipathy to Nicole Kidman, but GATSBY hit exactly the same wrong note. Even the quiet is loud.

    STRICTLY BALLROOM, however, is a classic.

  7. We’re still motherfucking John Wayne, though, right?

  8. I thought the way the Parker character is used in the story and Hanks’ performance pretty much ruined the movie. Absolutely nothing about it worked for me. He frames the story and insists in voice-over he is not the villain but there isn’t a single moment where he isn’t behaving like the most cartoonish villain. He should have been a charming huckster who you want to like even while you know he’s screwing Elvis over. Instead, Elvis looks like a buffoon for ever trusting this ridiculous Goldmember-sounding motherfucker. A shame, because Austin Butler is really great but the Parker character sinks the entire film from the get-go.

  9. Don’t worry, John Wayne has so much shit on record, our hatred for him is safe.

  10. Franchise Fred

    July 4th, 2022 at 3:16 pm

    Wow, they are still making biopics in the Walk Hard mold. Respect was the biggest recent offender and you could say that about Bohemian Rhapsody somewhat. But this is not guilty of that. I loved Moulin Elvis.

    Did anyone else think Bracey looked like Michael Bay in that wig? Cast him in the Bayopic!

  11. You know I never thought about it, but I agree with Mr. Majestyk. Love the music, love some of his artistry and even the iconography which is now considered kitschy, but as a person, not that interesting.

    I went on an Elvis deep dive about 12 years ago, and then I would have been really excited by this. Now… I’ll check it out eventually, if only to see if Tom Hanks’ Col Parker is inspiring enough for me to start daydreaming about a mega acting multiverse movie where his Col Tom manages Dennis Quaid’s Jerry Lee Lewis from GREAT BALLS OF FIRE

  12. Franchise Fred

    July 4th, 2022 at 5:07 pm

    I started in on Elvis movies a few years ago after the New Bev showed Jailhouse Rock. Jailhouse is legit great and King Creole is a good one too but even the interchangeable ones are fun.

  13. The uninteresting Elvis thing has some merit. A big appeal of GET BACK last year for me as a Beatles fan was getting those 20 whatever hours to follow those personalities and seeing them be witty and annoyed, etc. Not sure Elvis would be as compelling/amusing as a fly on the wall subject.

    OTOH I get a kick out of those Memphis Mafia anecdotes like wearing football gear and launch fireworks at each other or Elvis quoting Monty Python or believing his mind could force clouds to move or watching one of his dead friends get embalmed because he found mortician work fascinating or (my favorite) self-aware of his temper and consciously locked his gun collection in empty chambers (almost killed a lackey when he wouldn’t vacate toilet in a timely manner and Elvis was pissed.)

  14. Borg9 – I actually had a whole section about that “Fight the Power” line that I decided to cut out because I was meandering too much in this review. But the short of it is that Chuck D now says he resents Elvis being called “The King” rather than Chuck Berry, but doesn’t stand by what he says in the song about him being “straight up racist.” (Though he will add, “But seriously – FUCK John Wayne.”)

    There’s a story about Elvis saying something horribly racist, and in my research I learned that a reporter for Jet Magazine actually investigated it (including directly asking him and many people he worked with about it) way back in 1957(!) and determined that it was not true. But that hasn’t stopped people from repeating it all these decades later, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Chuck had heard it before writing that line.


  15. Loved this movie. Funny thing that happened through it was me looking up the actual footage of his performance of “If I Can Dream” and it got a lot of reaction videos by black youtubers in my algorithm who were seemingly blown away and surprised by how soulful Elvis was, apparently having never thought of him like that, which I guess says something about the perception over time of him as a hokey appropriator.
    Really enjoyed Hanks in the movie, and glad the Holland thing was explained, because I spent much of the movie confused why he didn’t sound at all American to me. I also have noticed that on the rare occasions Hanks has played villains in his career, it always seems to come with some sort of ostentatious different accent and drastic visual change. See THE LADYKILLERS and the 3 bad guy roles he has in CLOUD ATLAS for more examples. Is this just a coincidence or some conscious effort to protect the brand of Hanks as the World’s Nicest Man by making all the antagonist roles recognisably non-Hanksian?

  16. I grew up in an era when Elvis was still a thing, although I have to admit that I never really heard a full song of his until the John Carpenter movie. But the people who were into him were true believers. And I’m not faulting them for that or pointing fingers. It was just that, somehow, he made their lives better. I don’t know, in this era of YT celebrities and Twitter feuds, if that even happens anymore.

    I am impressed by the director giving a nod to the Captain Marvel, Jr. character. Cap, Jr., as drawn by phenomenal golden-age artist Mac Raboy, was Elvis’s favorite superhero, so much so that he copied the character’s hair for his iconic look. That’s probably the only Elvis trivia I know.

    Well, that and the fact that the “8th degree black belt” thing was a bit of BS. He did legitimately earn a 1st degree belt and he had some real ability, but the 7th degree belt he was awarded (I think it was 7th, rather than 8th) was just for show (and in exchange for a Cadillac, if memory serves). He did train, though, for a time, and one kind of wishes he’d leaned into that rather than getting hooked on doctor-prescribed meds.

  17. Elvis actually did get a chance to use his karate, or at least threaten to, just a few months before his death, right in my former hometown of Madison, WI.

    Elvis flew into Madison for a performance at the Dane County Coliseum, part of his final tour. The missing plaque says he and his entourage were in two limousines that stopped for a red light around 1 a.m. at the fateful corner where Skylane Standard Service used to be.

    Elvis noticed two young men pummeling a teen on the ground and his martial arts skills started twitching. What he was seeing was Keith Lowry Jr., son of the gas station’s owner, in a fight with a disgruntled former employee and another young man.

    [Some guy], who had gone to the airport with his sister to get a glimpse of Elvis arriving, later found himself on Stoughton Road right behind the limousines. He saw Elvis get out, a bit pudgy by 1977 standards and dressed in a running suit that said DEA…

    “I followed him up to the fight and I heard him say, ‘I’ll take you two on.’ I saw him in a karate stance when he issued that remark,” [the guy] said.

    The fighters were so surprised and thrilled to see Elvis that the fists stopped flying. “Is everything settled now?” the 42-year-old superstar wanted to know. Frey said he then shook the singer’s hand and told him he had tickets to his show in Madison. As a crowd began to gather, Elvis got back in the car and headed for the hotel….

    Elvis was a peacekeeper with perfect timing that night. And 53 days later, he was dead.

    The final scene you describe sounds pretty cool, but wouldn’t that have been a heck of a way to end it?

    I’m as big of an Elvis fan as you’re likely to find under the age of 50, but it’ll take a lot to get me out for this one. I don’t really appreciate Luhrmann’s style, to put it mildly, and, while I’m sure Butler is good, there are already like 30 movies featuring the real guy himself. I could just watch IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLD’S FAIR again! But your review at least has me mildly curious now; if the 3-plex near my apartment is playing this I may check it out.

    Finally, I have no idea if any of this is even remotely true, but: a fellow record collector pal at an old job I had insisted that the real reason Parker didn’t want Elvis to tour internationally was because he’d been an active collaborator in the puppet Dutch government that’d been installed after the Third Reich took over Europe, and was worried that he’d be recognized and sent to The Hague. Sounds a little on-the-nose to me, but you never know, Parker was a strange guy.

  18. “Is everything settled now?” That’s a great story.

    I like IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLD’S FAIR because it’s the only one where I can see Elvis walking around in my neighborhood.

  19. I like IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLD’S FAIR because it’s the only one where I can see Elvis walking around in my neighborhood.

    And Kurt Russell takes out his shins!

    I was Elvis agnostic until I visited Graceland. I took the tour, chatted up the guide (and smoked her out. This was back when they had actual tour guides, not recordings), and she hooked us up with the double-secret-probation tour, or whatever (cars, planes, guns, outfits, weird personal effects, bullet holes, LOTS of tales that weren’t on the standard tour). Basically, we walked away thinking Elvis was the raddest guy pretty much ever.

  20. RRA- I did always like that story about his Monty Python fandom. I remember seeing a clip (excised from the ALMOST THE TRUTH docuseries) where they all (interviewed individually) talked about it excitedly, except for John Cleese, who said he was glad he enjoyed it, but didn’t really care, and that he got more excited when he heard that “comedians [he] thinks are really funny” cited them as an influence, and I got what he meant, but I also felt, come on you miserable bastard, it’s Elvis we’re talking about here for heaven’s sake!

    I also heard he tried to get a copy of STAR WARS shortly before his death but had to settle for THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, reportedly the last movie he ever saw less than a week before his death.

  21. Thanks, Vern. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen those comments from Chuck D before, and I was just making a dumb joke, but I really appreciate the research you put into your reviews. I also appreciate the consistency and craft you put into them, so I won’t tell you not to worry about meandering. But I’d definitely have read your thoughts on “Fight the Power” in this review, or indeed pretty much any other review you could meander into Public Enemy in.

    As for John Wayne, I think there’s a really interesting Ford+Wayne biopic to be made in the vein of RAGING BULL, but probably not in my lifetime.

  22. You know, I take it back: I would actually be interested in a comedy focused entirely on the Memphis Mafia and the ridiculous shit they get into trying to keep their flibbertigibbet boss happy. Elvis is just a shadowy presence on the fringe of the screen, much discussed but rarely seen. David Gordon Green directing. It could work.

  23. BuzzFeedAldrin

    July 5th, 2022 at 8:09 am

    As someone marginally interested in Elvis, I want to see this but 1.) not a musicals guy. I respect Luhrmann’s ‘swing for the fences’ approach to musicals that’s almost psychedelic, but the mash-up stuff you mentioned? My body has already started reflexively cringing 2.) Is another hagiography needed? Back in the mid-2000’s I read Peter Guralnick’s definitive two-part Elvis bio, Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love, and took away that Elvis was a deeply lonely weirdo (there’s batshit stuff in those books like Elvis taking dates to morgues to watch autopsies, him tripping balls at Joshua Tree and being terrified when he saw Stalin’s face in the clouds, him buying the first or second home camcorder ever and immediately using to film himself having sex, him training two monkeys to drive to a golf cart to and from the pool cabana in the back of Graceland so that he and his friends could get loaded, and how when he took that infamous picture of him and Nixon where Nixon made him a “narcotics officer”, he was in the midst of a 72-hour binge and doesn’t recall the event ever happening.)

    His confident “king” persona was a product of booze, drugs and money developed after losing his mother who was more or less his north star. There’s an interesting Elvis bio out there but this doesn’t sound like it nor does it sound like it wants to be anything other than a celebration of Elvis’ music. And that’s fine but not enough to get me to the theater.

  24. It’s funny but lately I’ve not wondered “what if Elvis lived?”* but more “what more cool songs could he have covered?” since that was a large chunk of his stuff.

    Two contenders: Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (which was an Elvis pastiche anyway) and The Clash’s “Tommy Gun.” Sure the last one seems random but the way the opening snare hits is evocative of “Jailhouse Rock” and I just could imagine him taking a stab at it, probably be a tad slower and more country-fied (and sanitized.) Nothing on the original, but I could imagine Joe Strummer and Mick Jones getting a kick out of Elvis doing one of their songs.

    Pacman – in retrospect that Cleese line should’ve warned us of his whining about “woke” in recent times. I suppose though with his divorce and how it fucked his kids, it would possibly make any of us that grumpy.

    *=Elvis fans fantasize about him giving Parker the boot but Elvis by his nature just reads as a person who generally took the path of least resistance once he became famous. He had his lane he generally stayed in creatively.

    At best is he lived and theoretically went sober(ish) he would’ve been like Johnny Cash: icon, but playing to increasingly older crowds (the fate of most pop stars) and more regionalized. Maybe do a Traveling Wilburys type super group like Orbison did? Would a Rick Ruben type producer creatively re-energize him late in life?

    That’s a cool thing about alternate history: you can never proven wrong. But plausibility would be nice. This isn’t like a John Lennon surviving 1980 and what that would’ve meant for Beatles fans, a lot more interesting (and lamentable) than with Elvis, but that’s me the Beatles fanatic versus me the casual Elvis listener (I reserve “fan” for stuff I obsess over.)

  25. I think Cleese has always been pretty grumpy, he even didn’t do the fourth season of FLYING CIRCUS for reasons that boiled down to grumpiness.

    If we’re going to bring attention to old timey singers doing contemporary songs from eras later than we associate with them, I’m fond of ocassionally pointing out that this happened

    Bein' Green

    Provided to YouTube by Universal Music GroupBein' Green · Frank SinatraSinatra & Company℗ 1971 Frank Sinatra Enterprises, LLCReleased on: 2009-01-01Producer,...

  26. I’m not gonna see this; I don’t like Luhrmann’s work. His ROMEO & JULIET was diverting, but that’s about all I can say for it. But man, I fucking love Elvis, especially early Seventies Elvis. I wrote a whole thing about Seventies Elvis a couple of months ago, if anybody’s interested. The dude was an incredible musician, even if I agree with Majestyk that he doesn’t seem to have been a very interesting person. Just watch some of the documentaries about him and check out the footage of him working in the studio with his band. He knew how to put a song together, knew when he was doing good work and when he wasn’t, and was basically a pure natural performer who took real joy in his work. Hard to make a fictional narrative out of that, but it can be fascinating to watch.

  27. “Doesn’t that make you wish he made just one ass kicking karate movie at some point?”

    This actually came close to happening in 1974. Elvis and Ed Parker were interested in making a film about martial arts, so they asked mutual friend Rick Husky to write a script. Elvis’ instruction to Husky was reportedly, “I want to play the baddest motherfucker there is.”

    Husky wrote a treatment that would’ve cast Elvis as a former C.I.A. agent who had left government work in order to open his own dojo. He then decides to come out of retirement in order to avenge a friend who has been framed and killed by a drug dealer. In other words, we almost got to see Elvis star in his own Steven Seagal film!

    However, Parker was more interested in filming a documentary about the sport and Elvis eventually sided with that approach. The film was never completed and the raw footage sat in storage for decades before finally being released on dvd as “The New Gladiators”. (You can find clips of it on youtube.)

    As for Husky, he worked on several successful tv shows during the 70s before finally bringing that “baddest motherfucker” idea to life when he created T.J. Hooker.

  28. If you want to see Elvis be the baddest motherfucker on the planet, just watch pretty much anything pre-army

    It’s worth repeating:

    Number forty-seven said to number three
    “You the cutest jailbird I ever did see
    I sure would be delighted with your company
    Come on and do the Jailhouse Rock with me”


    He sang this celebration of jailhouse fucking in a major Hollywood motion picture in 1957

  29. As long as we’re celebrating Elvis movies, wanna give a shout out to the excellent FLAMING STAR. A great cast, with a terrific performance from The King, and for a Western of it’s time, a pretty good commentary on racism and culture clashes. And it’s directed by Don Siegel!!!

    JAILHOUSE ROCK will always remain a classic, but I feel FLAMING STAR is pretty underrated.

  30. I’ve actually reviewed a few of the movies mentioned here:

    FLAMING STAR: https://outlawvern.com/2010/03/28/flaming-star/

    The DVD about THE NEW GLADIATORS: https://outlawvern.com/2010/01/11/elvis-presley-gladiators-the-1974-elvis-karate-legacy-project/

    In that one I mention not having been to Graceland, but then I actually went there in 2014. I wrote about my trip to Memphis at the end of a MYSTERY TRAIN review and it’s kind of interminable but you can scroll down to see photos of my favorite belt buckles and jumpsuits and shit on display.


  31. If we’re doing Elvis movies, KING CREOLE comes objectively pretty high up the list. That one was directed by Michael CASABLANCA Curtiz and has Walter Matthau and Carolyn Jones.

    It’s good, but I think I’d rather watch one of the Norman Taurog movies, such as G.I. BLUES or, yes, IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLD’S FAIR. It’s worth noting that Taurog directed around 180 movies, nine with Elvis, but was pretty much retired and on the facutly of USC Cinema by the late ’60s; I’d love to know if John Carpenter took a class with him.

  32. Huh. It never even occurred to me to try watching an Elvis movie. I guess I just took BUBBA HO-TEP’s word for it: “Shitty pictures, man. Every single one.”

  33. Huh. It never even occurred to me to try watching an Elvis movie. I guess I just took BUBBA HO-TEP’s word for it: “Shitty pictures, man. Every single one.”

    King Creole is a legitimately good movie. Here’s seven minutes of evidence:

    Elvis Presley - Trouble (1958) Complete original movie scene HD

    Elvis Presley - Trouble (1958) Complete original movie scene HDA scene from the movie: King Creole (1958)Get the movie King Creole (digital) : https://amzn.t...

  34. Nice camerawork. Cool cast. Too bad about the star. Maybe this is just him trying to play a taciturn badass, but Elvis has the screen presence of a sullen kid being forced to apologize against his will. He even looks bored during the song. I’ll take your word for it that the movie as a whole is a good one (hard to beat Walter Matthau as a sadistic crimelord) but I think I’d have a hard time accepting Elvis as an actor.

  35. As far as the “real movies” in Elvis’ filmography go, Follow That Dream is another that is genuinely good. It’s almost like a perfect mix between his serious films and the more light-hearted musicals, with Elvis getting to play an actual character while still singing a lot of fun songs in a beach setting. This was also the movie where a young Tom Petty got to meet Elvis on location in Florida, so there’s an argument to be made that we have Follow That Dream to thank for Petty’s musical career. Another point in its favor.

    However, if I’m going to watch an Elvis movie, it’s usually going to be one of the silly musicals everyone pretends to be mystified by. I’m particularly fond of that whole period from Blue Hawaii to Tickle Me, when the “Presley Formula” was at its peak. Films like Viva Las Vegas and Girl Happy might be lightweight, but I never tired of watching them and feel they hold up better than similar flicks from that era.

    I basically view Elvis movies the same way I do James Bond, Tarzan, or Hope and Crosby’s “Road to” series: It’s a franchise built around a popular formula that connected with audiences. The fact that producers drove the Elvis movie brand into the ground by churning out so many in a short period of time doesn’t change the fact that it still created a winning formula and something unique in movie history.

  36. Nice camerawork. Cool cast. Too bad about the star. Maybe this is just him trying to play a taciturn badass, but Elvis has the screen presence of a sullen kid being forced to apologize against his will. He even looks bored during the song. I’ll take your word for it that the movie as a whole is a good one (hard to beat Walter Matthau as a sadistic crimelord) but I think I’d have a hard time accepting Elvis as an actor.

    If the presence of Curtiz behind the camera didn’t give you enough of a hint, it is a TOTAL Warner Bros movie just with Elvis instead of say George Raft. Cast a good looking lead who’s a bit bland with questionable acting skills, then load that motherfucker with the most colorful motherfuckers on contract, and give them lots to do. Then just let the hero, react, react, react.

    In seven minutes, you get Matthau, Jones, Paul Stewart, fucking Vic Morrow, a crazy dixieland band wearing derbies, a hot song, and three plot points. That’s just seven minutes!

  37. PS And yeah, Follow that Dream and Flaming Star are probably the best of the two post army joints.
    Kid Galahad takes third probably.

  38. RRA – I’ve been thinking about your question of what songs Elvis could’ve covered had he lived, and of course I went right to the Prince songbook. Tom Jones obviously did “Kiss” already, so that’s out. I wondered about “When Doves Cry” but didn’t think it would work, and realized that the anthemic “Purple Rain” would be an easy fit. But the more I thought about it I could sorta picture what it might sound like for him to do a bunch of them: “I Would Die 4 U,” “Starfish and Coffee,” “Darling Nikki,” “Sometimes it Snows in April.” I think maybe “Strange Relationship” would be my top choice, though. I think he’d do a good job with that.

  39. Of course I can’t speak for the REAL King, but in the late 90s/early 00s was an Elvis impersonator releasing a bunch of coverversions under the name The King and there was some good stuff on it. His version of Nirvana’s COME AS YOU ARE got quite a bunch of radio time.

  40. Of course the embed isn’t working.

    Come As You Are

    Provided to YouTube by Universal Music GroupCome As You Are · The KingGravelands℗ 1998 DRESSED TO KILLReleased on: 1998-01-01Producer: Bap KennedyProducer: B...

  41. This is complete heresy, but allegedly Elvis was real into “Whole Lotta Rosie” and wanted to do a cover in the upcoming tour.

    It was being “discussed” (he was being talked out of it) when he passed

  42. I’m surprised to discover I have opinions on this. Sometimes it Snows in April would’ve been perfect.

    If we’re gonna dream, let’s dream big: I’d love to hear the Elvis version of Born in the USA, or maybe Hungry Heart (but I’d still rather have The Ramones version).

    I was never the biggest U2 fan, but Pride (In the Name of Love) is crying out for an Elvis cover.

    Spiritually, I will suggest, Britney is the natural heir to Elvis, so let’s have him cover Baby One More Time.

    And Waterfalls by TLC would’ve been great too, with Lisa Left Eye Lopes reprising her own vocals from the original. Because if Elvis got to live so did Lisa.

  43. Elvis doing WHOLE LOTTA ROSIE, you say?

    Whole Lotta Rosie

    Provided to YouTube by Universal Music GroupWhole Lotta Rosie · The KingGravelands℗ 1998 Electrola GmbH & Co. KGReleased on: 1998-01-01Producer: Bap KennedyP...

  44. All this Elvis-covering-Prince talk is going to get us speculating about what Elvis’s version of the BATMAN soundtrack would’ve been like, or if Elvis the actor would’ve made for a good Penguin.

    “Bob George” actually would’ve fit in pretty well on the ’68 Comeback show.

  45. Oh wow, these are all good ideas. I especially like “Waterfalls.”

  46. And now I want to live in the timeline where Elvis released a cover album of Prince songs. I think my top pick would be “Delirious,” since it has a groove that Elvis could easily slip into. Number two would probably be “Little Red Corvette,” although your “Darling Nikki” pick might edge that one out, Vern.

    I would pay real money for an Elvis cover of “Jack U Off,” though.

  47. Vern – I would pick “The Cross” since Elvis loved him some Gospel and he would’ve connected with Prince’s Christianity.

    I’m surprised you didn’t suggest any Michael Jackson stuff. Both “Rock With You” and “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” I could imagine him tackling (the latter especially with the chorus of backup singers.)

  48. one of my karaoke standbys is also SUSPICIOUS MINDS (another is ALWAYS ON MY MIND). Chapeau!

  49. Really impressed by this movie. Luhrmann seemed to tone down his (often overwrought) style to fit the subject matter. I’m not enough of an expert to judge how accurate Butler’s performance was but he had a super compelling physical presence. Hanks was a real bummer for me though. Padding an actor with prosthetics to vaguely resemble the person they’re playing is distracting to me. And frankly he came across as a little dumb to me. Every time Elvis ignored his advice he was right on the money and Parker never learns to stay out his way. Sorry this a ramble. I’m going to JustWatch to see if any Elvis movies are streaming now.

  50. He’d probably work with Mark Knopfler

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