by Victoria Alexander
Austin Butler is Baz Luhrmann’s Tulpa. Luhrmann conceived him and drapes him in a halo of devastating beauty. Butler can sing, dance and appears possessed in ecstasy by the soul of Elvis.
Luhrmann’s kaleidoscopic vision delves into the broad strokes of Elvis’s life highlighted by an orgy of sensational music. Who wants an existential heavy laden drama about Elvis (Austin Butler) and Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks)?
ELVIS explains the orgasmic frenzy that propelled Elvis into idolatry.
There can never be another Elvis. It would take The Second Coming to eclipse, replicate or match the influence of Elvis. The fact that he was a solo artist without a group backing him up allowed him to be the focus of every fan’s desire. The appeared alone on stage and this was psychologically significant. Everyone experienced his ecstatic elevation into a almost spiritual realm.
Seeing him perform was a visual presentation of ecstasy.
We do not need another biopic on the life of Elvis Presley. We know all the salient details about Elvis’s life through numerous documentaries, concert specials and all the books written by every person who ever spent an afternoon with him. Among the books, the most controversial, Elvis: What Happened? by Red West, Sonny West and Dave Hebler as told to Steve Dunleavy, really took the bloom off the rose.
Elvis wasn’t a Sunday walk in the park.
If you would prefer just the facts without the artistry of Luhrmann’s visionary point-of-view, HBO is currently showcasing ELVIS: THE SEARCHER, a two part, 2-hour documentary.
Why did acclaimed director Baz Luhrmann choose the story of Elvis? Luhrmann’s career has been built on extravagance, bold, big music and movie stars. He knows the entire circus of dealing with high strung stars, the ruthless business of music and making movies so he has the skill and knowledge to present his uncluttered vision of Elvis.
Luhrmann knows the arena well and after spending his career as a “ring master” understands Parker’s perception that he created Elvis as his double. For Parker, he and Elvis were the two sides of one coin.
With Elvis’s global influence, Parker exercised his resentment for his creation’s need to disengage by unfairly taking 50% of everything he made and then easily gambling it all away. Parker had no other interesting.
Luhrmann gives us the reason for Elvis’s dynamic stardom. In the era of the 50’s, he gave the teenagers an outlet for their developing sexuality. Elvis raised the stakes by using the music as an agency for erotic transference. Like a tent preacher announcing the advent of the Great Revival, he was transformed body and soul to a pure being of sexuality freed of conventional behavior.
I have been “slain in the spirit.” The hours of waiting for the preacher to arrive, the music and the prayers start building to an orgastic relief that culminates in being “slain in the spirit.” I also experienced this intensity at an Umbanda church I attend in Rio and a group I wandered into in Benin. The constant drumming was a powerful narcotic-like agent that I was drawn to. I had to be pulled away.
Elvis’s beauty, powerful voice and testosterone roiling body laced with the dangers of segregation’s erotic “black music,” was his creation. Colonel Tom Parker was an outsider and a voyeur. His lust was satisfied knowing Elvis was his puppet. Parker saw him as a prized carnival act. Below Elvis was the side show’s “geek.”
Luhrmann often films Parker watching secretly behind walls, in shadows and always in the background. Parker was the man with the music box and a performing monkey.
Alexandra David-Néel, the famous traveler who lived in Tibet, created a Tulpa, a phantom “thought-form.” David-Néel wrote, “After a few months the phantom monk was formed. His form grew gradually fixed and life-like looking. He became a kind of guest, living in my apartment. I then broke my seclusion and started for a tour, with my servants and tents. The monk included himself in the party. The features which I had imagined, when building my phantom, gradually underwent a change. The fat, chubby-cheeked fellow grew leaner, his face assumed a vaguely mocking, sly, malignant look. He became more troublesome and bold. In brief, he escaped my control.”
Like David-Néel’s Tulpa, Parker’s creation wanted to escape his control. But Parker owed a Las Vegas casino a huge gambling debt. Elvis was chained to perform for 5 years at the casino. Was Elvis’s decline into obesity and drugs his revenge on Parker?
When Elvis appeared on stage bloated, drugged and incoherent, it was Parker he was punishing not the audience.
Luhrmann’s film is narrated by Parker and frankly, how did anyone in Elvis’s entourage tolerate this obese, cigar-smoking blowhard? I wanted him gone right after he turned up. There was much too much time devoted to Parker.
It was astonishing and the entire production is a triumph.
For a complete list of Victoria Alexander's movie reviews
on Rotten Tomatoes go to:
Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society
Personal email: email@example.com