Elvis captures the music icon visually Baz Luhrmann’s much-awaited film

SOUNDS FAMILIAR - Baby A. Gil - The Philippine Star
Elvis captures the music icon visually Baz Luhrmannâs much-awaited film
Baz Luhrmann’s take on the life and times of Elvis Presley is more about the essence of the music icon. It is nothing like those biopics about pop stars like Rocketman or Bohemian Rhapsody or even Great Balls of Fire.
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Elvis has arrived. And it is not your usual biopic. It is more about the essence of Elvis. Not about the life as we expected. This means, it is nothing like those biopics about pop stars like Rocketman (Elton John) or Bohemian Rhapsody (Freddy Mercury and Queen) or even Great Balls of Fire (Jerry Lee Lewis).

But then, this is Luhrmann, who has long ago established that he sees things through his camera differently. Think about William Shakespeare’s Romeo+Juliet, which I loved and about The Great Gatsby, which I did not. I put his Elvis somewhere in between.

For one, Luhrmann plays loose with his timeline in Elvis. You might need Wikipedia close by for reference. On the other hand though, I say don’t because you might find out what important facts and events were left out. A lot.

Still, I love how Elvis captures the feel of a time through the accurate depiction of images that we remember from magazine pictures and the news on television. Those familiar costumes were so faithfully recreated.

You will love Austin Butler. Well, Presley was better looking, but this guy got him down perfectly in every scene without ever descending down to the dreaded caricature or because this is Elvis, I say, impersonation. I do not know what his real singing voice sounds like, but Butler does a very good imitation of Presley’s vocals with Hound Dog, Baby Let’s Play House and Trouble. It is during those performing scenes that he embodies the Presley spirit best.

It is best to pay no mind to Tom Hanks as Presley’s manager Col. Tom Parker. It was often said that Parker was an obnoxious presence, who exploited Presley to the max and kept him from becoming the artist he wanted to be. So, if you cannot stand to look at him or hear him speak, it is only because Hanks like Parker, is just being obnoxious. This is not Forrest Gump.

Where Elvis excels is in its exploration of Presley’s music roots and influences. This plays very well in the soundtrack album. Gospel in Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, performed by Jasmine Sullivan, black spiritual in Strange Things are Happening Every Day by Yola and even rock and roll in the person of its architect Little Richard, played by Alton Mason are well-represented. Remember Presley became known as the king of rock and roll, but he did not invent rock and roll.

Also well-delineated through the music is Presley’s transition from hillbilly rocker to the astonishing vocalist he later became. Luhrmann made sure that the greatest recordings are heard in the soundtrack. Suspicious Minds, In the Ghetto, Burning Love, his dramatic version of Unchained Melody and the American Trilogy, the medley of Dixie, Battle Hymn of the Republic and All My Trials that was Presley’s “Coronation Moment” when he performed it during his comeback concert at the Madison Square Garden in 1968.

Truth to tell, if you are unable to sit through Luhrmann’s stomach-churning roller coaster kind of filmmaking, you can still appreciate his efforts by listening to the superb soundtrack album and watching the videos of some songs.

Truly poignant is how the end of Presley’s marriage to Priscilla Beileu is presented as the visuals for Can’t Help Falling in Love with You. This is sung by the angelic-voiced country music star Kacey Musgraves.

And so unexpectedly, I got a most wonderful WOW! moment listening to the inspiring If I Can Dream, as performed by the young Italian glam rock band Maneskin. I now have this strong urge to write down that this version is even better than the Presley original.

Sorry about that, I know this piece is about Elvis. But, I will need to keep in mind the name of that Maneskin vocalist. Damiano David. What a singer.


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