Elvis is back in the building – The Irish Times
In another era, Baz Luhrmann would probably invite passers-by to “roll up, roll up” in a revival tent or freak show. The Australian director of Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge is nothing but a showman.
Last February, as he unveiled the first trailer for Elvis, his very rhinestone, glitter bomb version of The King, Luhrmann invited viewers “from the United States, from their homes in Australia, from Asia and of our friends in Memphis also “to reflect on what we do every day on set” to shape “a film for the theaters…a film that will bring together all kinds of audiences; strangers to sit in communion”.
It’s a grand elevator pitch, one befitting a filmmaker who takes the biggest swings possible. Exhibit A: The director’s 2013 version of The Great Gatsby may or may not be to his liking, but no filmmaker will ever produce a glossier version of F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. As Tom Hanks said, when Luhrmann called to offer him the role of Colonel Tom Parker: “Oh my God, Elvis in your hands, well, it would be a nuclear explosion. It would just be bigger than big could be.
Priscilla Presley’s presence on the red carpet for the Cannes premiere of Elvis – not to mention the endorsement of Elvis’ granddaughter Riley Keough (who went on to win the Camera d’Or for her debut as as director War Pony at the same festival) – suggests something like an authorized biopic. Don’t use that word around Luhrmann.
“Great storytellers like Shakespeare, you know, they didn’t really do biographies,” says the director behind Romeo + Juliet who marked the decade.
“I mean, Shakespeare never did a biography of King Richard; what he did was he took a life and used it as a canvas to explore a larger idea. So I mean, a great biopic is great. But something like Amadeus, which was one of my favorite movies growing up, for example. It’s not really about Mozart, it’s about jealousy. Listen, there are musical icons in my life like Bowie who are so important to me. But as a young man, I was an Elvis fan. And the reason why, all these years later, I wanted to do Elvis is that the life of Elvis Presley couldn’t be a better canvas to explore the America of the 50s, 60s and 70s. It was a mythical life that he led until his very young 42 years. He lived three great lives in a short time. I wanted to respect Elvis and his life and his fans and the love that people have for this character. But what is extraordinary is that his life is culturally and socially at the center of three decades during which we can explore America.
Luhrmann’s edgy, hyperactive portrayal of Elvis cuts through the Sun Record years, The King’s film career, and the singer’s deployment to Germany (where he courted his future wife, Priscilla) to focus on the post- 1968 and the Mephistophelians hold that director Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks, under mounds of latex) had more singer. Parker’s reluctance to allow Elvis to tour beyond the United States and the deals behind the twilight years of the artist’s Vegas residency account for much of the runtime.
The film repeatedly revisits the Colonel’s private club jokingly named The Snowmen’s League of America, a pun on the Showmen’s League of America, a fraternal organization for circus and outdoor performers, which, in turn, plays on the word “Snow”, a carnival term. to trick an unsuspecting victim.
“The big idea was the relationship between self and art,” says Luhrmann, describing a tension trumpeted through his own elegant oeuvre. “The show and the company. The snowman and the showman.
Parker, born Andreas Cornelius van Kuijk in the Netherlands, was neither a colonel, nor a Parker, nor an American.
Speaking to The Washington Post in 1999, Presley biographer Peter Guralnick noted Parker’s complicity in Presley’s creative malaise, but stopped short of demonizing Elvis’ manager: but who also provides notes ominous hits as one considers the implications, not necessarily intended, of his discovery of a brilliant system to market Elvis.
This co-dependency between Elvis and Parker was also emphasized by Priscilla Presley when she spoke with Hanks during her preparations for the role.
“He was a wonderful man, and I wish he were alive today,” she told the actor. “He took really good care of us… He was a villain in his own way.”
“Was he a cheap crook who played fast and loose?” Hanks asked at the film’s Cannes premiere. “Yes, when it comes to that, but I’ve worked it all out to everyone’s satisfaction. He was a man who brought joy to everything he did…with a little larceny.
“I’m not interested in playing a villain just for the sake of: Before I kill you, Mr. Bond, would you like a tour of my facility?” continues the actor. “It’s okay. I get it, but I think it’s for other things. What Baz appealed to me from the start was that here was a guy who saw the opportunity to turn a talent unique in a cultural force. He looked for this and knew it about Elvis the first time he saw the effect of Elvis on an audience…He realized that this guy was a fruit forbidden and that you could make a lot of money with the forbidden fruit.
For Luhrmann, the two-time Oscar-winning actor’s involvement was a counter-casting coup.
“You have Tom Hanks essentially playing a villain,” the filmmaker says. “I think people don’t expect to see Tom Hanks play an unlikable character and I think Tom, he ran towards that. And I think that’s interesting because mean is too easy a word to sum it up. The story is told from his character’s point of view. It’s kind of like a little show I did called The Great Gatsby. It might be called The Great Gatsby, but it’s actually the Nick Carraway’s story because it is told from his point of view.
Tom Hanks was cast as Colonel Tom Parker in March 2019, which sparked a flurry of casting rumors. Who would fit into the blue suede shoes presumably occupied by former screen Elvises: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kurt Russell, Bruce Campbell, Don Johnson and Jack White?
Early favorites included Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Harry Styles. A cold call from Denzel Washington to Luhrmann sealed the deal.
“I watched this videotape of this young man in a flood of tears playing Unchained Melody, and I thought, ‘Wow, what is this? What’s going on here?’ , recalls Luhrmann, “And then I got a call from Denzel Washington.”
Washington recommended Austin Butler, his young co-star in a 2018 Broadway production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, and best known for his portrayal of the Manson family’s Tex Watson in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s Quentin Tarantino.
“Basically, I was starting to explore the humanity of someone who was sort of the wallpaper of society,” Butler says. “He’s such an icon and he’s presented as a superhuman. So exploring that and learning why he was the way he was and finding the human in that icon was really such a joy. Coupled with the fact that I’m working with the one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.
In preparation for the role, Butler watched several videos of Elvis concerts and movies to perfect the singer’s voice. In Lurhmann’s final cut of the film, Elvis’ early vocals are sung exclusively by Butler, but as Elvis ages, Butler’s vocals are mixed with later recordings of Elvis to give an older vocal sound.
“I was 27 when I got picked and I’m 30 now,” Butler says. “It was a long process. When I started, I sought to make my voice sound the same as his. That was my goal; that if you heard a recording of him, you couldn’t not make a difference. And I hung on to that for a long time. And what it does is instill fear, fear that I won’t make it. And it ignited the fire in me to work and work and work and work I mean, maybe a year before we even started, I was doing six, seven days a week voice coaching and, and I was working with different experts just trying to get myself signed up in the right place , just practicing for the dialect and its inflection. I could go into detail about the whole process. But in the end, it’s life that’s important. What we’ve realized is that you can imitate someone, but you also have the inner life, the passion and the heart. In the end, I had to free myself from the contra intes of identity theft and trying to live life as honestly as possible.
Elvis’ daughter, Lisa-Marie Presley, called Butler’s performance “absolutely exquisite”. This is one of many positive reviews from the Presley clan and insiders.
“In the beginning, I had several nice meetings and dinners with Priscilla,” says Luhrmann. “I met Lisa Marie. I met Riley, the granddaughter. I had to go and make the movie. Covid has arrived. A long time passed after these first meetings. And I couldn’t commit like I normally would. But I understand the trepidation, the anxiety, maybe even the skepticism of what we would do with the story of Priscilla’s husband, Lisa Marie’s father, Riley’s grandfather. Really late – much later than I would have liked – I must have projected the third or fourth cup. I’m used to reviews. It’s like Elvis said: critical people have their job. But no review was ever going to mean more to us than reviewing the woman who was married to Elvis Presley.
“I can’t tell you how my stomach felt when she came in to watch this movie. I can’t tell you how long those two hours lasted. I hear a story that the security guard with Priscilla was crying because of Priscilla’s condition. And I thought: Oh my God, what have I done? And then she wrote a note: I’m sorry for being so long. I just had to pull myself together. If my husband was here today, he’d look Austin in the eye and say, “Damn, you’re me.” The best reviews I have ever received in my life are from the Presley family saying there is now something they can turn to that they believe is the truth about the humanity of Elvis.
Elvis opens June 22