Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Was a Hero to Most

Elvis (Baz Luhrmann, 2022)

Won't pretend that I've ever cared for Baz Luhrmann's films in the past, nor that I've ever understood their appeal, but I will concede that he's a film maker with a flamboyant and very unique style. It's this particular fashion and my curious interest for his latest film, Elvis, which has caused it to blip its way onto my radar. A twentieth century pop cultural icon with enough bloated folklore surrounding him to match his final resting state; marry it with Luhrmann's groteseque mix of hyperstylised visuals, and you have a junkfood banquet worthy of my consumption.

Kudos to Austin Butler for pulling off Elvis's quirks and mannerisms without making it seem like a cheesy cabaret act impression. He resembles Shakin' Stevens when really close up, but there are times when he's a dead ringer for the king. This becomes apparent when actual archival footage of the titular singer are blink-and-you-will-miss-it edited into the film, and you're left wondering who's who at times. So impressive is Butler in the role that I wouldn't be at all surprised if his name cropped up during Oscar season. Tom Hanks is demonically grotesque as the manipulative and exploitative faux-American manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Hanks' Porky prosthetics make-up and dodgy Dutch accent are stupendously bizarre, but in Luhrmann's film, the Mephistopheles like character seems to be a natural fit.

Having Hank's Col. Parker narrate the film doesn't change the negative impressions for the character from villain to anti-hero or anything, but it does provide some insight into some of his motivations. This relationship between him and Elvis is why the film continued to keep me invested throughout its epic running time. A familiar tale of raw talent being controlled and exploitated by a very manipulative individual isn't exactly anything new, but it's a wholly entertaining retelling of it. It's all the more fascinating given it's based on such a recognisable icon. Seeing the golden goose being pimped and exploited is gutwrenchingly depressing at times, yet it makes for compelling viewing. An impoverished Southern boy with the voice, moves and sex appeal to send women into a screaming and orgasmic frenzy, who's gradual manifestation into a paranoid, drug-riddled, pathetically bloated slave of a man, is like the perfect example of the American Dream metamorphosised into the American Nightmare.

Luhrmann mixes the historical past with the present, which gives it an anachronistic vibe throughout its run time. This treatment is largely successful in the visual department, but it's taken to an annoying extreme with some of the soundtrack songs.  That's not all right, mama! Other misfires are Luhrmann's handling of important politically historical events and the racial turmoil of the era being treated with little to know real analytical depth; they're just filling in the check boxes, ironically à la Forrest Gump (1994). Cultural appropriation is addressed in a lukewarm manner here, since Elvis is portrayed as the naive Prometheus than a blatant plagiarist. His relationship with a fourteen year old Priscilla and his adulterous past are also treated with a degree of triviality, too. Can't honestly say these setbacks ruin the film for me, but they are relegated to minor footnotes whilst focused on the relationship between its two main characters.

Overall, despite some of its obvious problems, this is perhaps one of the most entertaining biopics I've watched since perhaps Oliver Stone's overtly indulgent The Doors (1991). It also marks itself as that rare time where I willingly went out of my way to see a Baz Luhrmann film (f**king hell!) and liked it. Granted, it's probably about as historcally accurate as Straight Outta Compton (2015), but considering I know next to nothing about the king of rock and roll than I do about the most dangerous band in the world, this was notches above in quality. Definitely a movie highlight this year, regardless.


Kelvin Mack10zie said...

I'm intrigued by Tom Hanks playing against character, but I don't think I could ever sit through a 2 & a half hour Baz Luhrmann movie. Did you see it at the cinema?

Spartan said...

Nah, watched it in glorious 4K on my 65" telly.

Kermode predictably gushed over it and gave it 5 stars, while Bradshaw a paltry 2. A fair rating would be 3½ stars, imo. Was really impressed how Austin Butler, a relative unknown, carried this film above all else.

Kelvin Mack10zie said...

That sounds like a more palatable way to watch a 239 minute Luhrmann movie.

You need to brand this blog as The Missing Link Between Mark Kermode And Peter Bradshaw.Ⓒ

Spartan said...

Peter Bradshaw is The Guardian's very own Charmerz most of the time, but he was on point with Everything, Everywhere...

Still flabbergasted that someone thought it was a good idea putting Eminem, Doja Cat and Denzel Curry on the film's soundtrack. Fan of Austin Butler's version of Trouble, though.

Theatre of Blood on Talking Pictures tomorrow night, blud.

Kelvin Mack10zie said...

Ah cheers. I will be tuned in.

Chamerz 😄

Spartan said...

Some choice Elvis related moments in other films:

Elvis (Val Kilmer) as Clarence's imaginary friend in True Romance.
The moshpit scene where Sailor sings 'Love Me' in Wild At Heart.
Bruce Campbell as an OAP Elvis in Bubba Hotep.
Elvis's display corpse in Kane's hideout from Robocop 2.
That Elvis hologram in the utterly overrated shite Blade Runner 2049. Best thing in that movie, other than Ana de Armas.

Still haven't seen that John Carpeneter Elvis movie, with Kurt Russell.