- In my pilates class, everyone was laughing and talking about their Elvis experiences. It feels like you are back in time with the King.
Director Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” is a winner. It is a lavish narrative about the rise of a young boy from Tupelo, Mississippi, who grew up in the projects in Memphis, Tennessee, to becoming the legendary King of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the years of segregation. Baz’s casting of Austin Butler (a rising actor/singer) as Elvis Presley is a cinch. But more unique to the retelling of this unforgettable tale is the narration from the villain of the piece: Colonel Tom Parker, the manager of Elvis Presley Enterprises.
Tom Hanks is masterful in his interpretation of this “carnival snowman” of a con artist who is neither a colonel nor his real name is Parker. Tom Hanks, with a hooked nose, portly midriff, scheming eyes and a creepy low-pitched drawl brings this vampire of a man to life. The heightened reality of his scheming, manipulating and controlling Elvis sharply contrasts with the innocent dream of a talented young artist who wanted to be a Captain Marvel hero and fly to the Rock of Eternity.
I am crazy about Elvis. Every time I listen to him croon “I’m so lonely baby…I’m so lonely I could die..,” my heart melts. He has this amazing hypnotic power to connect with the audience that you feel reeled into his soul. When Elvis was imbibing the Blues and Gospel music at African American Revival sessions, I was not even born. When he was dancing and singing with Mama and BB King at Club Handy of W.C. Handy fame, I was learning my ABCs. When his career was surging, I was just learning about his fame, marriage, elaborate lifestyle and huge fan base.
My dad once asked me after I had visited Graceland: “Why is it that young girls always manage to hide in his cars, luggage, and entourage?” I shrugged my shoulders and thought that by entering his home, seeing his guitars, his spectacular bejeweled costumes, his Cadillacs, his jungle room, his memorabilia, I had become an expert on Elvis. After seeing the movie I can answer the question. They couldn’t “Help Falling in Love With Him…” When Austin Butler starts gyrating on small stages in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama, the girls go frenetic with exhilaration and exultation.
That out-of-body experience they feel is what Parker as Elvis’s manager exploits. He sees Elvis as “an Act ” that people would pay money to see over and over again because, and I quote: ‘‘They were feeling something they realized they were not supposed to feel but they couldn’t help feeling it.” He uses the soaring spiritual connection that Elvis creates with his fans to prosper from him and finance his own gambling addiction. Like all con artists, Hanks as Parker infiltrates his trust, family, home, emotions and confidence. After Elvis loses his mother Gladys, he becomes more vulnerable to fall into the clutches of Parker who promises him a hundred Cadillacs, a plane, Hollywood and more.
I hated to see the handsome man, with a baby face, high Slavic cheekbones, angelic Irish blue eyes and the side smile that made girls cry out in frenzy, fall into the grips of drugs and confusion. He had started popping pills early on the road, but in the 1970s he literally traveled with three suitcases full of narcotics. He was put to sleep every night by a strong sedative. The lonely boy who created a carnival of friends around him became increasingly isolated and alone. The musician and film star who won millions of hearts in 1956 with his first number-one single “Heartbreak Hotel,” died of a broken heart at 42 in the bathroom of his home, at Graceland.
This tragedy happened in 1977 when I was admitted to medical school in Mumbai. But the triumph of Elvis’s career in the movie with 14 Grammy nominations (winning three), as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. As an actor, 31 films, sold-out performances on the mega stage of the International hotel in Las Vegas and the largest one-man concert performance projected via satellite, were punctuated by tragedy — the death of his Mama ( who was always afraid to lose her booby), death of Martin Luther King Jr. and the death of President Robert Kennedy.
It was as though through all the glitz and glamor, Baz Luhrmann was pulling us towards a tragic ending. When I compare Elvis Presley to Marilyn Monroe, I feel that both these great stars changed their hair color from blond to black and from brunette to blond respectively. Maybe that had something to do with it.
As of now, movie theaters across the United States are sold out for “Elvis” and I already watched it twice in two days. It’s a bit long to sit for 2 hours and 39 minutes. My apple watch reminded me to get up and walk three times. But I calmed it down by wiggling and rocking in my chair. Can’t wait to discuss it at length with my girlfriends.
Today, in my pilates class, everyone was laughing and talking about their Elvis experiences. There have been countless impersonators, but Austin Butler, with his smoldering eyes, lean physique, Beale street duds, pink lace shirts and turquoise scarves is the real-deal. How he modulates and throws his voice and hips to incarnate into Elvis. It feels like you are back in time with the King. Elvis, my friends will never leave the building! He is here for eternity.
“Can’t Help Falling in Love With You…”
With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, and essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM and the Princess Theater.