I’m usually against long movies, but this film is 159 minutes long and there’s supposedly a four-hour cut and I kind of wish there was an eight-hour one. Sometimes, you can eat too much candy and not get a stomachache and that’s how I feel about this; it’s near overwhelming how much Baz Luhrmann throws at you, nearly numbing your senses as much as dazzling them to the point where I couldn’t stop laughing at parts of the movie, but never at it. Laughing at the audacious nature of all of this, which is probably the best approximation of Elvis wearing his Captain Marvel Jr. suit standing in front of high rollers in Vegas, trying to escape and instead ranting from a darkened stage, saying things like “It’s called ka-ra-tay and only two kinds of people know it: The Chinese and The King and one of them is me.”
Elvis is a complicated thing. Chuck D. may have rapped “Elvis was a hero to most/But he never meant shit to me you see/Straight up racist that sucker was/Simple and plain/Motherfuck him and motherfuck John Wayne,” but he also told the Associated Press, “…there was always a great deal of respect for Elvis, especially during his Sun sessions. As a Black people, we all knew that. My whole thing was the one-sidedness — like, Elvis’ icon status in America made it like nobody else counted. My heroes came from someone else. My heroes came before him. My heroes were probably his heroes. As far as Elvis being The King, I couldn’t buy that.” He also told The Guardian, “You can’t ignore Black history. Now they’ve trained people to ignore all other history – they come over with this homogenized crap. So, Elvis was just the fall guy in my lyrics for all of that. It was nothing personal – believe me.”
As a teen, I was living with that knowledge that Elvis did not invent his music while the only songs of his I knew were the ones that got played the most, like “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog.” I didn’t know the Sun sessions as much nor the spiritual songs. My image of Elvis was an old drugged out man in a jumpsuit shooting TVs, dead on the toilet.
So — and this makes me seem old — but when I couldn’t sleep at night as a teen, I’d scan the AM radio dial looking for something to keep my insomnia company. I’d often find music I’d not heard and listened closely to Elvis songs like “Suspicious Minds” and “In the Ghetto” and sure, they can be schmaltz, but they felt earnestly real and raw even in front of their huge production. I grew fascinated with some of the wilder moments of Elvis’ life, like scandalizing the country with his motions, him being obsessed with karate and law enforcement, his films, the comeback special, the dying days and the Memphis mafia and the Fool’s Gold Loaf, a sandwich Elvis used to fly to Denver to eat right on the runway as restaurant workers brought him and his crew the delicacy, which is made from a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jam and an entire pound of bacon. It fed ten people. Elvis ate his all by himself.
So yeah, complicated. Why do I celebrate Elvis flying from Memphis to Denver just to eat his own sandwich rather than make it by himself or getting someone else to do it, thereby destroying our fragile ecosystem with his gigantic carbon footprint while I’d hate anyone else who did that? Why do I feel badly that he squandered his gifts so many times, choosing to make Hollywood silliness when he could still make vital music at any time? And how could a cultural living god so easily be snared by Colonel Tom Parker?
I had no idea who Austin Butler was other than playing Tex Watson in Once Upon a Time In…Hollywood but man, he’s Elvis as far as I’m concerned. I keep seeing Tom Hanks in Colonel Parker, but Butler is just great in his role. Then again, I wasn’t really around much for Elvis being alive, so maybe my aunt who loved him might feel different, but she also thought MCI was a super secret terrorist cell and not a phone company, so I’m not so sure I want to call and ask her.
Speaking of Tarantino’s revise on real life, I was kind of hoping at moments in this movie, even though I know the sad ending, that Elvis would figure it all out, fly around the world, make the music he wanted to make and not slowly die a doctor administered junkie’s death. But real life doesn’t work out that way, does it?
Also: this movie had no moments of Elvis inviting numerous groupies over to wrestle for him in white panties or in mud, but I think this was working really hard to make you love Elvis and not just for how strange — or normal, I mean, if you had all that money and fame you’d make some wild life choices too — he was.