Alarcon saw a few things last month – some were good, some were great, and some you can pass on. This is your ongoing summer viewing guide. There will be spoilers.
Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis
Warner Bros. Pictures
Starring: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge,
You know the potential consequences when the director includes their name in the title of the film they’re making, so it says something that the power of The King was strong enough to keep me from remembering that Baz Luhrmann directed Elvis. (Full disclosure: I walked out of the theater for Moulin Rouge about five minutes in for his insufferable Baz-esque stylization.)
Like the Sex Pistols, Elvis grew up in an impoverished, working class town. Like the Pistols, Elvis saw making music as a way to make a living, maybe even become famous. They both performed covers during their formative stage, but that’s where it ends. The Sex Pistols had their eyes on revolutionizing England. Elvis just wanted to buy his momma a pink Cadillac.
Luhrmann does a good job of portraying early Elvis as a pleaser. A good-looking kid who wanted to be successful enough to move his family out of the slums and keep him from a day job. We see a young, shoeless Elvis getting into all sorts of adventures, shoulder-to-shoulder with the Black neighborhood kids. First as a voyeur at a segregated speakeasy and later at a tent revival where a gospel choir screams and hollers as Jesus enters little E’s soul.
I read a think piece criticizing Luhrmann’s retelling of this early third of the film – the interracial third. The point of the article being that this film romanticizes Elvis’ perceived observing and stealing of Black culture for profit. There might be some truth there; but once Colonel Tom Parker (played by a miscast Tom Hanks) enters the story, Luhrmann focuses everything on the shaky Parker-Presley dynamic.
The one thing you should know about Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis is that the entire Presley family signed off on the script. Unlike Pistol where John Lydon tried to halt its production, Elvis mostly sticks to the facts, and steers clear of all controversial moments of The King’s life.
So there’s no mention of the groupies, the drugs, the karate, the Nixon meeting at the White House – this is not a movie of scandal, it’s more about redemption – Elvis’ redemption, Tom Parker’s redemption, even the redemption of Baz Luhrmann who up until this point, made some really shitty films.
Ultimately, Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis is a let down. So much time, money, and talent was wasted on a script that never got close to illustrating how glorious andfucked up Elvis Presley really was.