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  • Writer's pictureValerie A. Higgs

The Academy Awards Best Picture Nominee: Elvis


The life story of Elvis Presley - mostly from the point of view of his infamous manager, Colonel Tom Parker, a man of dubious origin.

I remember when Elvis died in 1977. I was at my friend Shannon's house, and we were playing some board game or playing with dolls or something in the breezeway of her house. The radio was on - I suppose her mother had been listening to it in the kitchen. The programming was interrupted by the news that Elvis had been found dead in his bathroom. Shannon and I had a brief conversation about the shock of hearing he had died so young, and then went back to our business of play.

I have always liked Elvis generally, and maybe at one point, I listened to one of his greatest hits albums on repeat. But aside from "A Little Less Conversation" (which I re-discovered while watching Oceans Eleven back in 2002), I haven't listened to him in a long time.

Being more of a fan of early-era Elvis, my favorite song of his is "Jailhouse Rock", which they didn't seem to address in the Baz Luhrmann-directed movie. I was a little disappointed, but I fully understand that they couldn't cover every one of his hits.

I have been a fan of Baz Lurhmann for a while. I was obsessed with his first movie, Strictly Ballroom, but didn't become a stan until Moulin Rouge. (Yes, yes, I love Moulin Rouge and I'm not ashamed, come what may.)

As I started Elvis, I saw the glitzy titles and Googled the director - I wasn't aware. When I discovered it was Baz, I said out loud, "Ah, yes, yes this makes sense." Elvis is not officially part of his Red Curtain series (correct me if I am wrong), but he definitely used the same editorial and visual devices. Everything was clean, shiny, glitzy, and pretty, and the primary colors were intense - especially the reds.

Until this movie, I was not aware of Austin Butler as an actor. As the title character, he did a fine job and happily never strayed into Elvis impersonator territory. There were even certain angles when he looked exactly like Presley. A couple of times it seemed as though they used actual footage of Elvis - especially during the famous Christmas special scene. (As I haven't explored any information regarding the subject, I'll rely on you to tell me until I do more research.)

The usually strong Tom Hanks didn't stand out to me as the duplicitous Colonel Tom Parker. I didn't necessarily hate him as the manager. I did feel that absolutely anyone else could have done the role as well. It occurs to me that if the movie was more focused on The Colonel, Tom would have had more meat to chew. But Elvis is the pretty thing that everyone wants to see, and I'm not sure anyone would have come out to see a movie focused on Tom Parker unless it was done with a lot of Elvis scenes.

The movie glossed over quite a bit, to its detriment, in my opinion. Yes, he was overworked (allegedly thanks to The Colonel), yes, he did drugs, and yes, he loved his mama (by the way WOW doppelganger), but good grief they practically ignored everything else that was part of his life. I felt that the movie never got any deeper than presenting a shallow framework of Elvis.

It would have been nice to see a grittier movie that went deeper into Elvis, the man, aside from the sensational aspects that we all already know. I don't feel that I know Elvis any more than I had before. However, I was very sad to see Elvis try to wrest himself from The Colonel's grip. And I had no idea Elvis had never gotten out of the US to perform for his overseas fans.

I will say that if I was forced to live in a hotel in Las Vegas and perform at only one venue for years, I would lose my mind. So that Elvis was popping pills (allegedly thanks to The Colonel), drinking, and over-eating is not that surprising.

Aside from my quibbles, I enjoyed the movie overall and Austin Butler's performance. Best Picture? I wouldn't say so, but it did deserve a nomination. Will it be shocking if Austin Butler wins Best Actor? No.

I'm looking forward to the results.

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