By Madeline Bocaro
ELVIS is a visually beautiful film.
It presents a shimmering kaleidoscopic view of Elvis’ career which spanned three decades,
presented in a glorious wave of nostalgia;
resplendent in pastel 1950s, psychedelic 60s and golden rhinestone glam 70s colors.
The costumes were gorgeous, conjuring warm vibes and memories from each era. Tabloid-style interludes illustrated the sensationalism surrounding the superstar.
Heavily featured is Elvis’ love of Gospel and Blues and their influence on him, his friendship with African American kids in his neighborhood, growing up visiting gospel churches – and later his admiration of musicians B.B. King, Little Richard and Rosetta Tharpe.
In two instances (early on, and again near the end) there is a bit of rap music in the soundtrack (Eminem is joined by CeeLo Green on a track called ‘The King and I’ over a sample of Presley’s ‘Jailhouse Rock’). This threw the validity of the film into oblivion for me. Randomly placing a form of music that did not yet exist into a film of another era was ridiculous.
The story focusses on Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker (played by Tom Hanks) and his allegedly villainous manipulation and control of Elvis and the 50% cut he took from his earnings. Parker is portrayed as a gruesome circus man – with a visage right out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales – including a long, drooping nose resembling that of the Wicked Witch of the West. They did everything but paint him green!
Some fact-checking was needed when I got home. Luckily, there’s a book called Elvis and the Colonel by Alannah Nash. She has been debunking mistruths about this film in recent interviews, some of which are loosely based upon truth.
It is portrayed in the film that Colonel Parker was appalled by, and tried to control Elvis’ sexy stage moves. However (in reality) Parker appreciated the scandalous headlines, and the fact that Elvis was being censored. This gained him more valuable publicity! Elvis was more upset about his natural dance rhythms being considered obscene than Parker was. However, the manager’s next move was to put Elvis in the army, give him a clean-cut look and star him in endless musical films.
Another mistruth is that Elvis, who had a great desire to tour the world, learns the reason he was not allowed to do so. The Colonel was an illegal alien who did not even have a passport. Elvis was essentially held hostage in America by Parker, playing for five years in Las Vegas. In a scene from the film, we see Elvis learn about The Colonel’s travel limitations, causing him to collapse in shock prior to a concert. Elvis is given pills to be able to perform, and he venomously denounces Parker from the stage during a Vegas performance for being an “alien.” These were disturbing scenes – but it was NOT TRUE. Elvis died without knowing that The Colonel could not travel, and the chastising diatribe did not happen onstage, and perhaps not at all.
Viewing the film in comparison to Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (with the ultimate fictional alternate ending of all time, shockingly and delightfully altering the outcome of the Manson murders in 1969) sheds a whole new light. Elvis’ fictional condemnation of The Colonel from the stage is a chance for him to lash out from the grave. That’s a great viewpoint. But unfortunately, people will misconstrue this film as a biopic, and might believe the mistruths.
Austin Butler who played Elvis gave a great performance – based upon his moves more than his looks. We are convinced that he did a great job… until (at the very end of the film) they showed THIS in its entirety; the REAL Elvis performing “Unchained Melody’. The TRUE MAGIC of Elvis was revealed. There is no doubt that the emotional level of everyone in the audience multiplied by the billions upon seeing the REAL ELVIS. This performance is very near the end of his life. It is operatic and tragic, yet sublime!!!
Elvis – ‘Unchained Melody’
The film will be available on HBO Max in August.
Here is a nice Elvis story which touched me even more than the movie did…