Wow!!! That was my initial reaction after my first viewing of Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS! Tom Hanks was Oscar worthy as The Colonel, and Austin Butler was mesmerizing as Elvis! The way Austin captured Elvis’ trying not to smile humble smile was uncanny, as is shown in the scene with BB King in Club Handy on Beale Street when they are watching Little Richard. Moreover, Austin perfectly recreates Elvis’ laugh in the scene with The Colonel talking about playing at the new International Hotel. In the same way, Austin says “Elvis the Pelvis is one of the most childish expressions I’ve ever heard from an adult” EXACTLY the way Elvis said it – same inflection, everything! The cinematography was exquisite, the music was revolutionary and the symbolism was brilliant! For instance when The Colonel is shown hanging on to Elvis’ back as he walks through the Vegas audience, The Colonel is literally riding Elvis’ coattails. Furthermore Priscilla is introduced under the guise of a dark stormy night with scary lightning to depict her as the villain in The Colonel’s eyes, or at least as the foil to his plans for Elvis. And the most obvious is Elvis singing “Suspicious Minds” (with the lyrics “I’m caught in a trap. I can’t walk out.”) while The Colonel is making the deal to keep Elvis playing Vegas. Along with telling the story of Elvis’ career with The Colonel, the movie also shows the history of the United States in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s especially race relations and how conservative everyone was regarding music and sex and just about everything. Every Elvis fan should see this movie! But you don’t have to be an Elvis fan to enjoy and appreciate this movie.
At first I did have some problems with incorrect timelines and some events that never happened, but I understand the necessity of dramatic license especially to show the 42 years of Elvis’ life in two hours and forty minutes. But I did have a real problem with the characterization of Gladys Presley, Elvis’ beloved mother. I just felt they got it wrong. She was portrayed as an angry drunk, rather than an overly concerned mother who on occasion drank beer and had liver disease. I don’t think the close loving relationship between Elvis and his mother was accurately portrayed. And I have never read anything about Gladys calling Elvis BOOBIE. But with all that said if Lisa Marie Presley and Priscilla Presley don’t have a problem with any of these inaccuracies and they lived it, then who am I to criticize.
I have seen the new Elvis movie seven times, but there were legitimate reasons for seeing it on the first five specific dates: June 11th (the Memphis Premiere), June 12th (the second Memphis Screening), June 21st (the Early Access Fan Event in select theaters), June 23rd (the first regular showing in theaters) and June 24th (the actual release date). The sixth time on July 6th, I took my parents to see it. The seventh time I went on July 11th, exactly one month after the first time I saw it. I was honored to be invited to the Memphis Premiere of the new ELVIS movie with the cast and the family on June 11, 2022. It was a first class event from start to finish. There was a delicious cocktail party prior to the screening with people from Elvis’ life such as Dixie Locke (his first girlfriend as Priscilla calls her) and James Burton (Elvis’ guitarist from 1969 until his death in 1977). For the Memphis premiere, we were given a gorgeous souvenir ticket, a dated movie poster and a bottle of Elvis’ favorite Mountain Valley Spring Water. I watched this beautiful movie for the first time surrounded with some of my closest Elvis friends. I was seated fourth row center. Before the movie Baz Luhrmann, some of the cast (including Tom Hanks and Austin Butler), Jerry Schilling, Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie Presley and Riley Keough were all introduced and most of them spoke. The minute I saw Lisa walk out I cried like a baby. I was just so overwhelmed to see her after the tragedy she has gone through the past two years. I knew what it took for her to be there and speak to us. I cried again at the end of the movie. It was perfect and even more moving to end the movie with the real Elvis and so beautifully done the way Baz did it. I was in awe, unsure of what I had just witnessed. The movie was frenetic and beautiful while at the same time sad and exhilarating. I knew I loved it even though I was very critical of all the inaccuracies. As I mentioned before, I did not like the way Gladys was portrayed especially her death. I am pretty sure Gladys did not die on the stairs of Graceland, considering she was in Texas and rushed back to the hospital in Memphis where she died AFTER Elvis left the army to come home to visit her before she died. None of that was shown in the movie. Something else that was not depicted in the movie was Elvis’ girlfriends, most notably Linda Thompson who lived with Elvis for over four years. Linda was the one in the hospital with Elvis, not Priscilla (and it also occurred much later than what was depicted). What was depicted in the movie was Elvis taking pills as early as 1955 or 1956, but to the best of my knowledge Elvis never took any pills before the army. That rant from the stage when Elvis fired The Colonel never happened. It may have happened behind closed doors, but not on stage in front of the audience. Elvis did have a rant or two on stage, but not about the Colonel’s citizenship, or lack thereof. In fact, I do not think Elvis ever knew The Colonel was not a citizen. I could be wrong about that, but I know it was not made public until after Elvis’ death. Priscilla told Elvis she was leaving him in Vegas, not at Graceland like the movie shows. Also I am pretty sure Priscilla did not name the Lisa Marie airplane as Elvis did not buy it until a couple years after their divorce. The photo hung in the staircase is of Elvis, not Graceland. The issues with the police regarding Elvis’ performance did not happen at the Russwood Park concert in Memphis like the movie depicted, but rather at a Jacksonville, Florida concert. The pow wow about the ’68 Comeback Special at the Hollywood sign never happened, not at the Hollywood sign anyway. Jerry Schilling was not involved in all those discussions about Elvis’ career, but I understand his character was used to represent all of the Memphis Mafia, especially since he is one of the only ones still around to consult. Just as I understand Baz took dramatic license to show as much as Elvis’ life and career as he could in the time allotted so timelines were adjusted and events changed. (And now after seeing it numerous times, I don’t care at all about anything that wasn’t completely historically accurate and even understand and appreciate Baz’s vision even more.) Baz did say he has four hours of footage, so maybe some of things we as fans felt were left out (like the Frank Sinatra special and Elvis meeting Nixon) were actually filmed and we will get to see them one day.
I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the second screening of ELVIS in Memphis the next night on June 12, 2022. This time my seat was up top in the corner, so the sound was not as amazing as it was the first night. But like the first night, we got to again hear from the cast and family. And like the first night, I got to experience the movie with friends and Elvis fans with everyone cheering and singing again throughout the movie and crying again at the end of the movie. But unlike the first night, the inaccuracies did not bother me as much, and I saw much more of the movie that I apparently missed the first time. Also unlike the first screening, Baz came back out after the movie to do a QnA with the audience, which was fantastic! We got another poster for this second screening dated June 12th.
Over a week later, I saw ELVIS at the Early Access Fan Event on June 21, 2022 at a local theater. We also got a poster for this event. I had a DBox seat, which meant I felt every movement in the movie. It was a different experience. The theater was full of Elvis fans who applauded at the end, but there was no cheering or singing during the movie as there was at the Memphis screenings. I again cried at the end of the movie, but the inaccuracies did not bother me at all as they had previously. This time I just purely enjoyed the movie, noticing even more things I didn’t notice at the first two screenings. It was at this viewing, that I finally noticed at the end of the credits what Baz was referring to about a surprise. I had missed it at both screenings in Memphis, but at this third viewing after the credits ended the cover of “If I Can Dream” turned into Elvis singing it and then after the TCB goes away on the screen Elvis quietly says “Thank you. You’re fantastic. Thank you very much.”
Two days later I saw ELVIS at a different local theater on June 23, 2022 in ScreenX, which shows the movie on 3 walls – the main screen in the middle and on the 2 walls on either side. It was fantastic to see it this way! What was not fantastic, and what I took for granted, was not seeing it with other Elvis fans. Not only was there no singing or cheering, but there was no applause at the end. The next afternoon on its official release date of June 24, 2022, I saw ELVIS for the fifth time at third local theater in Dolby. The sound was almost as amazing as it was the first time in the Guest House at the Memphis premiere. It was a good crowd for a Friday afternoon, but still no applause at the end, but I did hear people saying how much they enjoyed it as they were walking out of the theater. I of course cried again, but I cried even harder the 6th time when I took my parents to see it on July 6, 2022 in ScreenX (which I love) and left the theater even more emotionally drained than I had been in earlier viewings as ELVIS is a beautiful emotional roller coaster.
A bit about the soundtrack. I love it! I did not like the Viva Elvis soundtrack or the duets or usually any cover or mash up of Elvis songs, but for some reason I love this soundtrack! And it’s not just because listening to it reminds me of the movie, which it does, but I liked the songs in the movie the first time I watched it. I thought the mixing of “Summer Kisses Winter Tears” with “I Got A Feeling in My Body” was brilliant! I mean no one ever uses “Summer Kisses Winter Tears.” Being an Eminem fan, I of course love Eminem’s “The King and I.” I love Stevie Nicks (and apparently Chris Isaak’s) “Cotton Candy Land.” And I absolutely adore Maneskin’s cover of “If I Can Dream!” I also love the use of Dogo Cat’s “Vegas” the first time Elvis is shown on Beale Street during the day, and Swae Lee and Diplo’s “Tupelo Shuffle” when Elvis is back on Beale Street at night. Now listening to the soundtrack at home outside of the movie, I’m really liking the other covers like Katey Musgraves’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” duets like “Power of My Love” with Elvis and Jack White and remixes like “In the Ghetto” featuring Nardo Wick. I also love the soundtrack just because it reminds me of the movie. I love that actual clips from the movie are included on the soundtrack the “Unchained Melody” and “Vegas Rehearsal / That’s All Right” sequences – and many of Austin’s performances. Like Baz said, the soundtrack is a souvenir from the movie.