The King of Rock and Roll is magnificently portrayed in the Warner Brothers film Elvis 2022, hitting the ground running this past weekend. I saw and heard Baz Luhrmann’s biopic of music legend Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) with fellow patrons in a packed theater.
The film begins with a pensive narration by Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), Presley’s agent until his death at age 42 in 1977. Parker begins, “Are you born with destiny, or does it just come knocking at your door?” When Parker first witnesses the teenaged Presley singing with what would become his signature dance moves and gestures, he notes, “In that moment, I watched that skinny boy transform into a superhero.”
Presley’s musical roots in Mississippi and Tennessee are explored through his youthful exposure to gospel music and jazz. There, he was influenced by the likes of Little Richard, B. B. King, Big Mama Thornton, Mahalia Jackson, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. These experiences developed his foundation for an energetic, passionate singing style, movement, and love of blues and gospel. We also delve into the relationship between Presley and Colonel Parker. While there are questions about Parker’s financial motivations and profit-taking, he was undoubtedly a skilled promoter.
Getting to Know Elvis
For those who remember Elvis Presley, the release of Elvis 2022 is an exciting and emotional musical tribute down memory lane. If you missed the excitement of his era, it’s a chance to get to know one of the most successful recording artists of all time.
Presley’s signature hip gyrations as he sang shocked the conservative establishment as it excited swooning audiences. In the background and in the video below, you can hear Elvis singing and see him dancing to the song Hound Dog on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956.
250 Million Records
For selling more than 250 million records, Presley ranks with The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Madonna, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Rihanna. I suspect this film spurs additional interest in Presley’s music and movies, and Graceland may see a bump in tourism.
Initial impressions include how well Presley’s youth, charisma, talent, and handsome features are well-characterized by Austin Butler, who sang and danced throughout the film. As audiences did with Presley, Butler inexorably drew our attention to him. Butler reminded us of the excitement of Presley’s music, stage and film presence, and bon vivant larger-than-life persona. Butler also ably projected a certain innocence and humility we associate with Presley and helped us relive and enjoy the music created when Presley was among us.
Final impressions include the stark tragedy of Presley’s demise and our loss of a great artist. When he passed in 1977, the world was shocked, interest in his music surged, and Elvis imitators came forward to meet the demand for live performances.
One imagines what Presley might have accomplished had he found a way to escape the self-destructive lifestyle that eventually consumed him. We can only sigh, shake our heads, and reflect similarly on the lives of Jim Croce, Karen Carpenter, Whitney Houston, Marvin Gaye, Buddy Holly, Bob Marley, and even Wolfgang A. Mozart.
Relationship? It’s Complicated
We are left to wonder about the association between Presley and Parker. Did Parker simply regard Presley as his personal “cash cow” to fund his gambling losses, or did they maintain a close bond sustained through the expected highs and lows of any long-term relationship?
Characterizations of Presley’s final performances as an exhausted, overweight young man were heartbreaking; alas, these represent the tragic denouement of a promising life.
Fortunately, we can continue celebrating Elvis Presley’s unique contributions to music through recordings and film.
Here is a link to the movie’s Official Trailer.
Austin Butler as Elvis Presley, Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker, Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla, Richard Roxburgh as Vernon Presley, Chaydon Jay as pre-teen Elvis, Dacre Montgomery as Steve Binder, Helen Thomson as Gladys Presley, Yola as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Alton Mason as Little Richard, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr. as B. B. King.
Director Baz Luhrmann
Screenplay by Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, and Jeremy Doner
Executive Producer Kevin McCormick
Music by Elliott Wheeler
PG-13. Runtime 2h 39m