The King lives.
Elvis Presley died in 1977, but roars to a rock and roll resurrection in the biopic, “Elvis.” It opens June 24.
This isn’t your father’s Elvis movie. Director Baz Luhrmann wants to shake up Elvis history in a visual, aural and sensual assault. Some critics have argued that Luhrmann does this at the expense of telling a story.
That’s fine with Luhrmann, who has been dubbed an “auteur director.” That’s fancy talk for a director who creates art with his own, unique vision and style.
“This ain’t no nostalgia show; we’re going to do something different,” Austin Butler says as Elvis, in the film. Tom Hanks stars as Colonel Tom Parker, the man who turned Elvis into a star and exploited him. Olivia DeJonge plays Priscilla Presley, Elvis’ wife.
But it’s Luhrmann’s vision and philosophy that dominates the film.
“I’m opening Elvis’ journey out to a new audience that knows only the guy in the jumpsuit and doesn’t understand he was a rebel,” Luhrmann told Entertainment Weekly. “He was the first real pop-cultural youth rebel on a mass level.”
Austin Butler, best known for his work at Disney, nails down the Elvis look and gyrations. His vocals are passable on such Presley standards as “Suspicious Minds,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “That’s Alright (Mama),” and, near the end of the film, “Unchained Melody.”
Here is the newest trailer for the film:
Luhrmann wanted more than just the hits, and the soundtrack is an example of Elvis’ musical diversity.
The movie stresses that Elvis was influenced by African American R&B singers, Southern Gospel and Country music.
Kelvin Harrison Jr. plays B.B. King in the film; Kodi Smit-McPhee as Jimmie Rodgers, Yola Quartey as Sister Rosetta Thorpe and David Wenham as Hank Snow.
The soundtrack includes songs by: Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac; rappers Eminem and Ceelo Green; Chris Isaak, Jack White, Tame Impala, Jazmine Sullivan and Doja Cat.
Tom Hanks brings Colonel Parker to life as the fast-talking Southern carnival barker who transformed Elvis into a household name and milked every last ounce of Presley’s money. Their early meeting is detailed on a Ferris wheel ride at a carnival. Parker isn’t shy about his influence, saying in the film: “Without me there would be no Elvis Presley.”
Luhrmann’s “Elvis” is an intoxicatingly fierce and fast blend of images and music. Luhrmann is best known for such films as “Strictly Ballroom,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Great Gatsby” and “Moulin Rouge.”
The Australian director spent nearly two years working on “Elvis” and he told Entertainment Weekly the film is, “the ‘Apocalypse Now’ of musicals.”
It details Elvis’ life from a kid with a guitar, to a truck driver in Memphis, to the top of the charts, to an Army GI and, finally, the physical and mental downfall before his death at age 42.
“…It’s so sprawling and it’s beautiful, but it’s powerful,” Luhrmann added. “It’s a three-act, pop-cultural opera. His life fits beautifully into three acts.
“There’s Elvis the punk, if you like, the original punk rocker the rebel. Then there’s Elvis the movie man, and that’s when he is pop-and-family-friendly. And then there’s the ‘70s’ Elvis, which is epic.”
Finally, Elvis, and his relationships with Parker and Priscilla, turn to dust. It’s almost Shakespearean. “That’s the beauty and tragedy of the movie,” Luhrmann told EW. “You see them rise and fall.”
The film debuted this month at the Cannes Film Festival in France and reviews were mixed. Time magazine called it, “barely a movie…exceptionally fragmented and frenetic.” An English critic dubbed it an “utterly deranged musical biopic. “Rotten Tomatoes” had it above average, with an 82 percent rating and average score of 6.8 out of 10.
Those closest to the real Elvis Presley loved the movie.
His daughter, Lisa Marie tweeted: “Let me tell you that [the film] is nothing short of spectacular. Absolutely exquisite. Austin Butler channeled and embodied my father’s heart and soul beautifully.
“In my humble opinion, his performance is unprecedented and finally done accurately and respectfully. Thank you for setting the record straight in such a deeply profound and artistic way.”
“In the first five minutes, I could feel how much work Baz and Austin put into trying to get it right,” Elvis’ granddaughter, Riley Keough told Variety. “That made me emotional immediately. I started crying five minutes in and didn’t stop.
“There’s a lot of family trauma and generational trauma that started around then for our family. I felt honored they worked so hard to really get his essence, to feel his essence. Austin captured that so beautifully.”
Priscilla praised the acting and directing as “beautifully done.” She added on social media: “This story is about Elvis and Colonel Parker’s relationship. It is a true story told brilliantly and creatively that only Baz, in his unique artistic way, could have delivered.”
Tony Violanti covers arts for Villages-News.com and is a member of the Buffalo, NY Music Hall of Fame for his music journalism.