Austin Bishop is not a name I was familiar with. From now on, his Elvis will be the best Elvis interpretation ever put onscreen. Bishop has the voice down, the movement down, the look down, and the film was wise in utilizing the real Elvis’ singing—including film of Elvis’ final performance before his untimely death on August 17, 1972 at the age of 42.
I would expect Austin Bishop to be nominated for an Oscar for his capturing the essence of the man often referred to as the King of Rock & Roll. (Of course I thought Chadwick Boseman deserved a nomination for portraying James Brown in “Get On Up,” and that never happened.)I just hope that this talented newcomer does not get stuck playing Elvis for the rest of his life.
Butler and Australian director Baz Luhrmann managed to make a long (2 hrs. 40 min.) tribute to the late great rock & roller that entertains while also glossing over much of the real history behind Elvis’ rise to greatness and his precipitous fall. (See some factual Elvis trivia below).
You know it’s going to be a Baz Luhrmann epic from the moment the overdone credits appear. For Luhrmann, the operative phrase should be changed from “Less is more” to “More is less.” Luhrmann is best known for directing “Moulin Rouge” and “The Great Gatsby.” I go way back to 1992’s “Strictly Ballroom.” This film was the best of all of those and, despite the characteristic overkill, Luhrmann took on a huge story. He tried to tie Elvis’ rise and fall in with the turbulent story of the times, which is a tall order. A lot happened in the fifties and sixties and there are many reminders of those moments in time.
For those too young to have seen Elvis in his prime, this movie is an education. However, the film does veer from the truth along the way.(See some Elvis trivia below) Gone is any mention of Elvis’ many loves. Wikipedia tells us that Elvis and Priscilla Presley became increasingly distant after the 7 and ½ year courtship, including her relocation to Graceland after Elvis met her while serving in the Army in Germany in 1959. She was 14 when they met; he was 24. They married in 1966, although she lived at Graceland with him for nearly 8 years before they tied the knot. They divorced in 1972. Priscilla gave birth to Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis’ only child, in 1968. Lisa Marie was 4 when her parents split up and 9 when her father died.
The film was shot completely in Queensland, Australia.“Shooting the film completely in Queensland, Australia, called for meticulous recreations, especially when building Graceland. The production team did a huge analysis by visiting the real Memphis estate multiple times, accessing original plans through the Graceland archives, and studying photographs for hours on end. The model was built on what was once a horse paddock, near a flower farm. The initial interior features blue walls and red carpeting. “We were lucky enough to be taken around [Graceland] by the head archivist, Angie, and she took us into the hall closet,” Martin says. “There’s actually a bit of that blue paint extant in the closet, so we were able to take paint chips and match the color.”
This attention to Graceland detail allows us to see the entrance and the formal dining room, although the circular bed in the master bedroom, the hopelessly outdated kitchen and the famous “Jungle Room” do not appear in the film, nor do the outer buildings that were constructed after Elvis first bought the 18-room mansion on March 19, 1957 for $102,500.
Presley and Priscilla filed for divorce on August 18, 1972. They had been married since 1966, but she had spent the years from 1959 to 1966 living at Graceland, which means that their union lasted for roughly 16 years. According to Joe Moscheo of the Imperials, the failure of Presley’s marriage “was a blow from which he never recovered”. At a rare press conference that June, a reporter asked Presley whether he was satisfied with his image. Presley replied, “Well, the image is one thing and the human being another … it’s very hard to live up to an image.” The screenplay has Elvis saying, “I’m so tired of playing Elvis Presley” and, at another point, “Ever since then, I’ve been lost.”
For me, the movie took me back to July 1, 1957, when my sister turned 16. She was having a slumber party. All the girls were upstairs, but I—the unwelcome 4-years-younger little sister—was downstairs watching television when Elvis appeared on television for one of the first times in history. I was mesmerized. Nobody on TV had ever moved around while singing like Elvis Presley. I immediately began shouting for my sister and her sleepover friends to come down and watch this new phenomenon. They ignored me, of course, but it was a first appearance that I never forgot.
Tom Hanks provides the co-star name to bring in the movie crowd. Casting Tom Hanks as the villain has never been the best idea. He played a hit man in “The Road to Perdition.” While Hanks always delivers a fine performance, being the bad guy is not his sweet spot. This particular bad guy, Colonel Tom Parker, is particularly odd, as Hanks plays him decked out in fake padding and utilizing the Dutch accent that Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk (Parker’s real name) would naturally have developed. It was well-known for years that Parker’s lack of a passport and citizenship papers kept Elvis from going on international tours.
Did the Colonel Tom Parker of Elvis’ world speak with such a heavy accent? I have no idea, but it does make one wonder why it took so long for the truth about his lack of citizenship to emerge publicly. We are given a scene in Baz Luhrmann’s film where Elvis fires his longtime manager from onstage during a performance. Did that really happen? No idea.
Luhrmann’s touch—never a light one—is seen everywhere in this over-the-top rags-to-riches interpretation of Elvis Aaron Presley’s life. It’s a rags-to-riches story. One facet drawing praise is the credit given to the Black artists who influenced Elvis’ sound.
Whenever Austin Butler’s Elvis is performing, the resemblance is uncanny. You can’t look away. Butler spent two years prepping for the role and his imitation of Elvis far exceeds that of Kurt Russell, Nicolas Cage, Michael Shannon or others who have attempted to emulate Elvis.
The cinematography by Mandy Walker was good and the costuming by Catherine Martin is Oscar-worthy. Other co-stars (Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley; Helen Thomson as Gladys Presley; Richard Rosburgh as Vernon Presley.) are background wallpaper.
Lisa Marie Presley is featured in an endorsement, saying, “I love this film, and I hope you do, too.”