It is difficult for Generation Z, so many decades away from an icon that changed world culture, to understand that Elvis Presley, the idol of the Baby Boomers, was the butt of jokes and a reference of decadence for Generation X, which today redeems him with fervor. I start by saying this because Baz Lurhman‘s new film, Elvis, was a passionate fan project for an audience open to getting to know him, however, with a biased narrative.
Baz’s Elvis Presley is a victim, sweet and tragic. A convenient vision supported by a ravishing aesthetic (his signature), but which excludes/softens several well-known facts that could take away the sympathy of the star, precisely those that became more associated with his last years. Those of a drugged man, from the Right (he supported Nixon and defended the possession of weapons), dangerously flirting with pedophilia (Priscila Presley was only 14 years old when they started dating, he was 25), and as if today highlights, although sold as a supporter of black music, was structurally appropriating the art of marginalized black artists. Elvis may have died 45 years ago, but it’s still controversial.
I’m not against cleaning up his image. Priscila Presley is tireless in keeping his legend contextual and unquestionable, but that means choosing which weaknesses may have some “justification”. In current times, the idol’s love life is the most sensitive point because until recently the sexist culture allowed age differences and, according to Priscila, he never did anything inappropriate until she reached the allowed age. Still, Elvis dated a 14-year-old girl. But let’s turn the page.
I will talk about the film itself, I’ll still spend a few paragraphs situating the importance of rescuing the relevance of Elvis Presley.
In digital times we have difficulty remembering or understanding how big the world seemed to be then, how difficult it was for cultures to travel, and above all, how an 18-year-old boy literally changed the world by rolling around in front of teenagers. Mass communication at the time depended on the radio (no image), TV was restricted locally for not using satellites, and newspapers and magazines only reached newsstands days or hours after they had passed through the printers. In other words, immediacy had another meaning and Elvis Presley became a worldwide fever despite the communication barriers of his time. He, alone, changed everything. Music, fashion, consumption, idolatry…
There is a world before Elvis and after Elvis. No exaggeration. There would be no The Beatles without Elvis. To help in the perspective of what he meant culturally. No artist has come close to his historical importance because he was the first.
The hillbilly boy from the Tennessee countryside, with a unique beauty and voice, came from a family so poor that even whites lived among blacks, in a time of segregation so strong that it meant he never had a chance in life. But it was precisely this integration that changed Elvis’ life, as he had unlimited access to music and ascendant culture, in the biggest and best source (the city of Memphis, where he moved with his parents) and broke insurmountable barriers of that sad period.
Elvis invented rock, mixing blues, gospel, and country. He did this by playing what he liked, imitating the steps he saw, and having a look perfect for general acceptance. His life was intense and fast. He broke out at 19, became a mega-star at 25, got married at 30, and died at 42. He was never a composer, just a performer, which changed the course of his career at the end of his life. He was from the time when composers wrote for him, but with the Beatles, those who knew how to write began to sing and his repertoire lost connection with young people. To think that Bruce Springsteen, still young, wrote Fire for the King, but he died before recording it.
After the long introduction, let’s talk about the film. In a word? Amazing.
Baz Lurhman devoted himself to the project for many years and generated a lot of suspicions when he elected a relatively unknown Austin Butler over stars such as Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, and Harry Styles. Anyone who reads the MiscelAna blog knows that I managed to catch the physical similarities, but general disbelief was strong. It changed when the trailer was shared, and with the movie, I’m already singing the stone: Oscar, Oscar, Oscar. OSCAR. Anything less than that is unacceptable.
Austin Butler IS Elvis Presley and at no time do we notice the difference. And warning: the director plays with this because he mixes images of the real with the actor and only at the end makes it clear what he was doing. We don’t notice the difference. Because there isn’t.
The film is long and focuses more on Elvis’ abusive relationship with his manager, Colonel Parker (Tom Hanks), whose malice led the singer’s life to premature death, isolation, and frustration. Elvis was what was called a “good boy”. Countryside, simple, and close to the family, are factors that Parker used “against” him throughout his life. For a long time, it was a deal that worked for both sides, but much more so because Elvis was an unprepared 18-year-old, leaving everything in the hands of those who pretended to be friends.
The film quickly tells about the seed of Elvis’ weakness, exploited by Parker. The singer had the “guilt” of having to “live for two” on his shoulders since his twin died in childbirth, and his traumatized mother suffocated him with love and attention. The father, weak, was a loving but cowardly figure. Elvis, as a “good kid”, felt responsible to take care of the two of them and the close family. And so he did.
If you’re not familiar with the facts and order of factors, you’ll be confused by Baz’s frantic, traditional way of telling his stories. After all, all of his films have two light, fast-paced acts to deliver a third reading, sad and exciting. Elvis is no different. To alleviate critics of cultural appropriation, his friendship with BB King gained a prominence that is not often highlighted, and it is in the guitarist’s voice that one recognizes the fact that even though well-meaning and a lover of black culture, Elvis transformed the creation of others. , like Little Richard, in his. The difference between the Colonel and Elvis was in the intention. The singer appreciated and loved the black culture, but the colonel only saw it as a means of becoming a millionaire.
Tom Hanks, with transformative makeup, mimics how the Colonel spoke and is devilish. Having an actor whose audience identifies him as a nice guy is essential to empathizing with Elvis Presley when he falls for manipulative talk.
The soundtrack is the brilliant part of the film. Modernizing the rhythms, avoiding falling into the trap of making clips, whether to rescue a moment or mark the passage of time, typical of biopics, he manages to choose good moments and bring nostalgia to the right point. Yes, we have Hound Dog, Can’t Help Falling In Love, Are you Lonesome Tonight, and other hits, but it’s the last King classic that gets a new perspective. Suspicious Minds is about a toxic, seemingly romantic relationship, but it’s the end-of-life paradox of the star, who literally sings of the “trap he can’t walk out.”
It’s beautiful, it’s exciting, and it deserves to be seen. If you want to revisit the real Elvis Presley, search Netflix for one of the best documentaries ever made about him: The Searcher, which was originally from HBO. The focus is on his music, but because it reflects the people, it’s a fascinating time trip.
In the meantime, we already know: that Tom Hanks and Austin Butler are the favorites for the Oscars 2023. Let’s follow along.