Spanning over 20 years the compelling film unravels the story behind the relationship between Elvis and his calculated manager Colonel Tom Parker. The incredibly well shot cinematic masterpiece directed by Baz Luhrmann descends deeper into the life of Elvis, a life dipped in excess, loss and hunger for music. After gaining an incredible 10 minute plus standing ovation at Cannes it rightly lands itself in the upper ranks of music biopics.
An incredible performance by Austin Butler he embodied the essence of Elvis, from his mannerisms to the tonality of his voice. At first sceptical due to the choice of casting, Austin has been etched in my mind as the heartthrobs in Hannah Montana and Zoey 101. Undoubtedly not taking into account that over 15 years had since passed since his TV acting credits, his growth and range as an actor was clearly demonstrated in his new acting venture as Elvis.
We are introduced to the world of Elvis in the opening moments of the film through the character of Colonel Tom Parker. What became quickly evident as the movie progressed was that his intentions weren’t all too favourable. There’s a scene on a Ferris Wheel where Colonel Tom Parker tries to convince Elvis to let him become his manager. With nowhere to escape he smoothly lures him like a true showman (he has a background working in the Circus) and tries to sell him a dream. This scene reminds me of a fairytale where a villainous character tries to disguise something as good, although it has dark repercussions.
The film shone a light into his early upbringing, which I wasn’t all too familiar with and I didn’t understand the gravity of influence that American black music and culture had on him. There’s a moment when he attends a Revival ceremony and he is immersed in gospel music and you can feel the power and energy of the music feed his soul. This was the moment where Elvis found a higher purpose in music as it sparked a feeling that he carried with him through his performances.
The power of black music not only fed into igniting his love for music but also through his signature dance moves. Set amongst the political backdrop of 1950s America, the movie shows the tensions surrounding segregation and racism. Going against the societal norms at the time, his nod to black music and culture was controversial and consequentially diluted. Due to the political landscape, he was conflicted between what he wanted to perform and what he was told to do. Regardless of what has been going on externally, he seemed most at home when he was immersed in black music and it reminded him why he loved making music in moments of doubt.
Following suit of Romeo + Juliet and The Great Gatsby both directed by Baz Luhrmann, his latest project Elvis similarly includes a gold standard tracklist. Aside from of breath of songs taken from the Elvis archives, there’s been numerous singles created such as songs from Doja Cat, Swae Lee, Eminem, CeeLo Green and Diplo. Elvis Presley’s poignant track ‘Suspicious Minds’ rung in my head continuously as I left the cinema and the lyric ‘we’re caught in a trap, I can’t walk out’ had a whole new meaning. The track divisively depicted the tension between Elvis and Colonel Tom Parker as Elvis walked into a web of contacts and lies that he couldn’t step out of. The manipulation of the original musical score was also cleverly shown through the love between Elvis and Priscilla Presley. As their relationship became more strained the song ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ became less and less upbeat, reflecting the deterioration of their dissipating relationship.
The movie gave a comprehensive and well rounded insight into his life, from his early childhood, fame, relationships and ultimately his death. It unearthed the fundamentals of what inspired him to become an artist and ultimately what led him to his demise. The film paid homage to his upbringing and his experience growing up in a predominantly black community and it fed into his identity as an artist. By telling his story through the lens of Colonel Tom Parker also showed how Elvis wasn’t really in control of his own narrative. Although Colonel Tom Parker did propel his career into fame and without him there wouldn’t be an Elvis, his greed and manipulation became a negative and detrimental force. This feeds into the age old story that management can become the making or breaking of an artist and although at times the odds were against him, Elvis has mastered a career that has lived on through the generations.