Elvis: Another Review

Elvis

Elvis: Another Review. By Nick Boyd.

“Elvis” is an energetically directed biopic starring Austin Butler in a star-making performance in the title role, but told through the eyes of Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks (unrecognizable at first), veering from his usual nice guy roles in a performance that takes getting used to but ultimately works.  The film spans many years, taking us from Presley’s early days to his later drug-fueled period.  It is always visually stimulating in an extravagant way and a true visceral experience.  

As a young boy, Presley was drawn to revivalism and gospel music as he felt it gave him a transcendent emotional feeling.  His first real opportunity in front of an audience took place at a Louisiana Hayride where he performed live. What was evident was his never-seen-before appeal to the young women and teen girls in the audience who seemed more drawn to his boyish charm and dance gyrations than his singing.  This being the conservative 1950’s in the Deep South, though, there was backlash, many deeming it overly sexual in nature. 



At the Hayride is where Colonel Tom Parker first lays eyes on Presley.  Looking for the next big sensation, Parker believes he has found it in Presley and in a scene at a carnival tries to sell him on the idea of becoming his manager and promoter.  Presley is lured by the riches that could come his way with Parker assuring him that not only he, but his parents as well, would be well taken care of financially.  Parker sees to it that Presley is marketable in the best way possible, trying to refine his image so that he can get as many appearances and bookings as possible.  Over time, Presley comes to see Parker as a father figure and to depend and care about him.  Their relationship is effectively portrayed as we see the behind-the-scenes power that Parker has over Presley even as he ostensibly conveys he wants the best for him. 

Another turning point for Presley comes when he is stationed overseas in Germany while he is in the military.  There, he meets an American young teen named Priscilla who he becomes smitten with.  Despite the age difference, when Presley’s military service is up, the two move back to the states, marry, and have a child.  This relationship eventually becomes a rocky one as Priscilla believes that Elvis cares more about his addictive behaviors and his career over her and their daughter.  One thing viewers were deprived of was the relationship and subsequent marriage, which was never fully explored.

The latter part of the movie shows Presley beginning a singing residency at Las Vegas, one of the first such performers to do so.  It is at this point he is able to revive his career and seems to be having his glory days back and enjoying himself.  

Several aspects of the picture did bring it down a bit.  I thought when the movie showed split-screens it was distracting and frenetic.  Also, opening the movie in 1997 with Colonel Parker narrating from his hospital room was disorienting and would have been better had it begun with Elvis as a youth.

That being said, we really get a glimpse into what made Presley such a popular figure, with Butler effectively exuding showmanship yet vulnerability.  Also, the influence he had on the culture and what influenced him is made evident. The film makes it a point to show how Presley was influenced by Gospel and Blues and enjoyed hanging out in Black nightclubs and lounges on Beale Street.  He was particularly enthralled by the singers B.B. King and Little Richard, who he seemed to model his look and musical style after.  Insights like these as well as the pure entertainment of the musical numbers make the film an eye-opening and fascinating watch.


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