The Baz Luhrmann Movie - Sydney Premiere
Movie Review by Piers Beagley - June 5, 2022
It was as far back at May 2014 that EIN first reported that fellow-Australian Baz Luhrmann had started working on his concept for a stunningly fabulous ELVIS movie. At the time there were plenty of skeptics that didn't believe that this Academy award-winning director of The Great Gatsby, Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, Australia and Moulin Rouge could be interested in an ELVIS biopic but we were proved right.
The Sydney Premiere of Baz Luhrmann's movie 'ELVIS' was presented in the glorious Sydney State Theatre where Luhrmann's first film 'Strictly Ballroom' happened to be featured thirty years ago at the 1992 Sydney Film Festival.
EIN's Piers Beagley was also there in 1992 and was lucky enough to be part of the June 5th 2022 'ELVIS' celebration. Here is his review..
Keith Richards, "Elvis hit like a bombshell ... it was like the world went from black and white to Technicolor."
Bob Dylan, "Hearing Elvis for the first time was like busting out of jail,”
Leonard Bernstein, "Elvis introduced the beat to everything, music, language, clothes, it's a whole new social revolution…"
While the above words apply to Elvis Presley they could similarly apply to Baz Luhrmann's style of film direction.
Compared to the regular Hollywood output Baz Luhrmann movies have a similar feel of busting out of jail and going from black-and-white to technicolour. They are loud, brash, super-colourful, fast-edited and exciting. They have their own language and style.
So while they have already been a few biopics of Elvis (e.g. 1981’s This Is Elvis, Kurt Russell's ‘Elvis’) they have all been fairly formulaic in presenting Elvis' life and achievements in the usual chronological way.
As the Game Radar review neatly noted, “Still considered the best-selling solo music artist of all time, and a cultural force like no other, the question of any big-screen Elvis biopic isn’t ‘why make it?’ but ‘why has it taken this long?’”
Baz Luhrmann has been working on his idea of an Elvis movie since 2014, so it has taken a long while and several changes in the concept before we reach this magnificent new 2022 release.
And magnificent it is. The full-bore soundtrack, the glowing colour, the revelation of Austin Butler's truly stunning performance and the real excitement of the fast editing really does make it feel that Luhrmann has grabbed Elvis' true spirit in kicking down Hollywood's boring black and white naturalistic door. The film not only tells Elvis’ life but has the genuine excitement of the real Elvis, something that I've never felt from any previous Elvis Bio-Pic.
Oscar winner Catherine Martin designed over 9,000 costumes for the movie, including 100 costumes purely for Austin Butler’s ELVIS. In just one stunning short sequence of Elvis ‘live on stage’ we get to see Austin Butler in over 10 of Elvis' jumpsuits in a furious fast edit. As a viewer this cleverly gives you the impact of how many tours and shows Elvis must have done, as well as the true magnificence of his style. But it is amazing to consider that this quick sequence must have taken weeks to film and edit.
To be honest as a very-serious Elvis fan it is a rather difficult to watch this movie without trying to spot all the Elvis references, checking the facts and timelines, spotting which version and which mix of every song is being featured, as well as looking out for all the little snippets of genuine Elvis footage which Luhrmann has included.
The incredible fact is that while the movie includes so many little snatches of the genuine Elvis (for instance a few seconds of the Hy Gardner interview, real footage of Elvis with Lisa Marie, Al Dvorin etc) yet Austin Butler has one so enthralled in playing Elvis' character that you can hardly spot the difference.
Regular movie fans won't even notice that there is genuine live Elvis footage, and snippets taken from ‘That's the Way It Is’ or ‘On Tour’ as they all blended seamlessly together.
Rather fascinatingly the movie starts with Col Parker on his Las Vegas deathbed and the first Elvis song you hear is ‘Cotton Candy Land’ sung by Stevie Nicks! So right from the get-go you realise that Baz Luhrmann knows his Elvis and that he is going to be up to plenty of exciting tricks along the way.
In a typical rush of Luhrmann fast editing, drawing you into Elvis' life story, fans will be surprised to see a glimpse of the infamous Las Vegas “Ice bucket incident” within the first few minutes of the film. Although, of course, we do come back to the sadness of later Elvis towards the end of the film.
The early rush of the film through the 50s Memphis, the black influences on Elvis, his tours with Hank Snow (David Wenham is rather good), the Louisiana Hayride etc. are all handled with true excitement and attention to detail.
Alton Mason is magnificent as Little Richard, as are Gary Clark Jr. as Arthur Crudup and Shonka Dukureh as “Big Mama” Thornton.
The ‘That's All Right’ section where young Elvis is absorbing all the influences from the other-side-of-the-tracks in Tupelo is truly exciting, acknowledges the black influence on Elvis, and is later cleverly repeated in the film in split screen. The split screen itself, perhaps a Baz Luhrmann homage to Elvis’ original ‘On Tour’ documentary.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s song (again played wonderfully by Yola) “Strange Things Happening Every Day” is beautifully used to drive the narrative. While this is not a song that many Elvis fans would know, again this shows how carefully Luhrmann and his team have researched and chosen the soundtrack.
It is truly impressive that the two young actors Austin Butler and Olivia DeJonge totally inhabit their two lead characters from the early days in the 50s right through to the mid-70s still looking exactly like the real Elvis and Priscilla.
Austin Butler, for instance, never looks like a young person in “fat-Elvis” make up. The way Austin Butler touches his face as he talks is pure Elvis. As he explained in many of his interviews he studied Elvis’ movements so closely and “lived as Elvis” for two years - and it shows.
Olivia DeJonge’s performance also intensifies as she is given more to do as the later, hurt, Priscilla.
While Tom Hanks is more of a caricature of Col Parker than hard-core fans might accept, he is still beautifully believable as the villain of the movie and again there are times you forget that it is Tom Hanks in prosthetic make up.
Choosing two relatively unknown new stars - Austin Butler and Olivia DeJonge - to feature in the movie will also draw in the younger crowd and spark a new interest in Elvis Presley. The use of modern music sensations such as Doja Cat, Diplo, Tame Impala, Swae Lee and PNAU will also draw in an alternative group of music fans.
To tell every important moment of Elvis' life story is impossible within the frame of a regular movie. So there are plenty of moments here where well-known parts of Elvis’ history are blended into one specific section.
For instance with the July 1956 Memphis Russwood Park concert which is magnificently replicated. Elvis’ family is in the audience and the excitement and tension runs so high. Austin Butler's performance is stunning and Luhrmann has studied Wertheimer’s photographs from the show to get it just right. Elvis correctly tells the crowd, “You know those people in New York are not going to change me none. I am gonna’ show you what the real Elvis is like tonight.” Austin Butler then sings a fantastic “Are you looking for trouble” – and the footage is so exciting that you feel that you are watching the real Elvis in action.
However Luhrmann takes theatrical liberty here not only with the specific song ‘Trouble’ but also by including the police vice-squad filming the show and Elvis being rude handling the RCA dog (actually from 1957’s L.A. Pan Pacific show) plus also includes the Jacksonville 1956 post-show riot and “finger-wiggling” tease. While these may not be factually correct for hard-core Elvis fans, the juxtaposition does work perfectly and neatly showcases the danger and excitement that Elvis was causing at the time.
Typical of a Luhrmann movie you can see why any overly detailed fact-checking needs to be left at the door and knowledgeable Elvis fans should just enjoy the ride. Yes, we all know the Las Vegas International changed its name to The Hilton in mid-1971 and it doesn't in this movie, but does that really matter to Elvis' story? Similarly the “Ice Bucket” incident didn’t happen in the Hilton’s corridor on the way to a performance, again this is a drama and not a documentary so it doesn’t matter.
At times the story moves along at a flying pace. Elvis’ movie career is hardly mentioned, not even in the 50s, although the suggestion that ‘A Star Is Born’ could have boosted his creative juices later in his career is definitely included.
A fair amount of time is spent examining the importance of Elvis’ creative resurgence with the 68 TV special and Elvis finally standing up to The Col. There are big factual liberties taken here with a supposed Christmas set in the studio, but it emotionally works. Again, Austin Butler is mesmerising here.
Similarly Elvis’ Las Vegas 69-70 return to splendour is brilliantly captured along with the Elvis' regained excitement about being back in front of a live audience (personally I wasn’t sure about Austin Butler’s blue eye make-up).
The section featuring Elvis’ “red-shirt” rehearsal on stage also captures Elvis’ true ability to understand the power of the music and how to imbue his ideas to his backing musicians. Watching this Elvis fans will again realise just how much Luhrmann has put into examining Elvis' rehearsals and his musical legacy.
Butler's performance of ‘Suspicious Minds’ is totally stunning and is followed by the International tablecloth contract ($5 million for five years + the negation of Parker’s Las Vegas debts) leaving the movie’s remaining 30 minutes to explain the further manipulation of Col Parker, how he completely let down his only client, and the final downward spiral of Elvis' life.
Elvis' later career highlight of ‘Aloha from Hawaii’ is included but only through a short one minute montage of Elvis’ genuine performance. Again, non-Elvis fans probably won’t notice that it isn't Austin Butler!
Elvis' boredom of the seemingly never ending routine Las Vegas seasons is included, as well as his increase in pill consumption, notably with the 1973 summer Closing Show where Elvis bad-mouthed the casino and its management from on stage.
In anger Elvis actually said "Adios you Muttha, to hell with the Hilton Hotel and screw the showroom too". To a non-fan this will be quite a surprise that Elvis would be so forthright about his feelings, but it is true. This was of course the night Elvis fired Col Parker as his manager. Luhrmann again blurs the facts in having Elvis fire the Colonel from on-stage, as well as denouncing him as an Illegal alien. This fact was never truly confirmed until after Elvis' death, but in the movie the point has to be made.
The journey of Luhrmann’s film, as he has explained, is not only Elvis' magnificent story but also the question of whether Col Parker’s “The Sell” destroyed Elvis and his creativity. Did consumerism destroy creativity? Did Col Parker kill Elvis, did Elvis die of boredom, did the fans all-consuming love help kill Elvis?
Two negatives points that we both came away with, albeit very minor, is that the movie could have been slightly shorter and that at times the music was so heavily edited, in multiple variations of the same song, that it could get overpowering. But then I'm sure that's the same feeling you would have got seeing a young Elvis on stage – and, after all, this is part of Baz Luhrmann’s style.
(Spoiler alert). The end of the movie takes us to Elvis’ 1977 performance of ‘Unchained Melody’. Here is the statement that underneath all the Col Parker marketing and hype was an artist still bearing his emotions and his soul - the creativity still struggling to break through.
This section starts with Austin Butler as the older Elvis but then cuts to the incredibly moving genuine performance by Elvis. Again you realise that the general public won't even notice the difference. But it's a beautiful Baz Luhrmann touch bringing us all back to reality after the surreal, colourful, magnificent blast of the previous two hours.
The ending is truly moving and it certainly made me cry. No wonder Lisa Marie and Elvis' family were emotionally moved. Poor Elvis. A true hero, an entertainer who gave his all, but in the end was a lost soul.
EIN NOTE: Every negative media review that I have seen of this film (eg The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw) is by someone who has never liked Baz Luhrmann’s style in any of his films. These negative reviews are always about Luhrmann’s overall direction and style rather than discussing whether ‘ELVIS’ is actually a bad movie.
The rating from my partner - who is a music lover but not a Elvis super-fan - was 4.5 stars noting that Luhrmann’s ‘ELVIS’ is far more enjoyable that ‘The Great Gatsby’.
Overall Verdict: The energy, excitement and emotion that Baz Luhrmann has brought to
this film is stunning. Finally an Elvis 'biopic' that truly captures the story
and excitement of the world's greatest entertainer. The early fifties
section enthralls while all the live performance sequences are electrifying.
Austin Butler is a true star capturing Elvis' dynamic intensity
perfectly. Having watched this glorious movie as a “super-Elvis-fan” I now have to watch it again for the pure entertainment and to let Baz Luhrmann’s beautiful tribute to Elvis wash over me. 45 years since Elvis' death this beautiful modern tribute to a man who moved the world from black-and-white to Technicolor and who helped kick down doors, does exactly the same in Luhrmann’s unique style. This film should capture the imagination of hard-core Elvis fans as well as interest a new generation in the importance of Elvis' creativity and what he brought into the world. Magnificent - I can't wait to see it again.
Comment on this Review
Review by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN June 5, 2022
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
|The film explores the life and music of Elvis Presley (Austin Butler), seen through the prism of his complicated relationship with his enigmatic manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). The story delves into the complex dynamic between Presley and Parker spanning over 20 years, from Presley’s rise to fame to his unprecedented stardom, against the backdrop of the evolving cultural landscape and loss of innocence in America. Central to that journey is one of the most significant and influential people in Elvis’s life, Priscilla Presley (Olivia DeJonge).
Starring alongside Hanks and Butler, award-winning theatre actress Helen Thomson (“Top of the Lake: China Girl”) plays Elvis’s mother, Gladys, Richard Roxburgh (“Moulin Rouge!”) portrays Elvis’s father, Vernon, and Olivia DeJonge (“The Visit,” “Stray Dolls”) plays Priscilla. Luke Bracey (“Point Break”) plays Jerry Schilling, Natasha Bassett (“Hail, Caesar!”) plays Dixie Locke, David Wenham (“The Lord of the Rings”) plays Hank Snow, Kelvin Harrison Jr. (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) plays B.B. King, Xavier Samuel (“Adore”) plays Scotty Moore, and Kodi Smit-McPhee (“The Power of the Dog”) plays Jimmie Rodgers Snow.
Also in the cast, Dacre Montgomery (“Stranger Things”) plays TV director Steve Binder, alongside Australian actors Leon Ford (“Gallipoli”) as Tom Diskin, Kate Mulvany (“The Great Gatsby”) as Marion Keisker, Gareth Davies (“Peter Rabbit”) as Bones Howe, Charles Grounds (“Crazy Rich Asians”) as Billy Smith, Josh McConville (“Fantasy Island”) as Sam Phillips, and Adam Dunn (“Home and Away”) as Bill Black.
To play additional iconic musical artists in the film, Luhrmann cast singer/songwriter Yola as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, model Alton Mason as Little Richard, Austin, Texas native Gary Clark Jr. as Arthur Crudup, and artist Shonka Dukureh as Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton.
From a screenplay by Baz Luhrmann & Sam Bromell and Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce and Jeremy Doner, story by Baz Luhrmann and Jeremy Doner. The film’s producers are Luhrmann, Oscar winner Catherine Martin (“The Great Gatsby,” “Moulin Rouge!”), Gail Berman, Patrick McCormick and Schuyler Weiss. Courtenay Valenti and Kevin McCormick executive produced.
EIN 'ELVIS" Movie Spotlight: Baz Luhrmann's new biopic 'ELVIS' will finally be released to the cinemas on June 24 2022.
It was as far back at May 2014 - eight years ago - that EIN first reported that fellow-Australian Baz Luhrmann had started working on his concept for a stunningly fabulous ELVIS movie. At the time there were plenty of skeptics that didn't believe that this Academy award-winning director of The Great Gatsby, Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, Australia and Moulin Rouge could be interested in an ELVIS biopic but we were proved right.
In our in-depth spotlight EIN presents all the stories, interviews and drama that have accompanied this brilliant achievement since those early days of 2014.
Compiled by EIN / Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN June 2022 - DO NOT COPY IMAGES OR INFO WITHOUT PERMISSION.
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
Other EIN Spotlights you might be interested in...
|'The Dark Side Of Colonel Parker' - EIN Spotlight: June 26th 2009 is a special date that commemorates four unique events of the Elvis World.
1. The 100th Birthday of Colonel Parker.
2. The 32nd Anniversary of Elvis' final concert in Indianapolis.
3. The 30th Anniversary of the death of Elvis' father, Vernon Presley.
4. The 30th Anniversary of the revelation to Elvis’ estate that Colonel Parker was still fleecing his client.
Although comedian Nipsy Russell stated that "Every entertainer should go to bed at night and pray he finds a Colonel Tom Parker under his bed when he wakes up in the morning" - is that really the truth?
It is a fact that after Elvis' death an official investigation found that "both Colonel Parker (and RCA) acted in collusion against Presley's best interests. Colonel Parker was guilty of self-dealing and overreaching and had violated his duty to both Elvis and to the estate."
While there is no doubt that Elvis and The Colonel's story is extremely complex, in this in-depth Spotlight EIN takes a look at the darker side of Colonel Tom Parker - and includes plenty of insights from Elvis’ colleagues and friends.
. Go here for this fascinating investigation- and also Have Your Say.
|‘Bicycle Rider: Thoughts on The Searcher’: One of EIN’s most insightful contributors George Smith has written a stunning essay on the new HBO documentary ‘Elvis Presley: The Searcher’.
In his review ‘George Smith’ captures the essence of the narrative, Zimny’s production decisions and notes the difficulty of having to create a documentary about Elvis’ music and having to keep it under 4 hours.
His review includes,
“The genius of the documentary though, is in its decision to present Elvis Presley to all viewers in a new and unexpected fashion. For the devotees this is realised through the constant use of new film (professional and amateur) and studio outtakes: it keeps the faithful on their toes and creates the impression of seeing and hearing Elvis anew. This is why Zimny insisted on using the alternative Aloha, the handheld “Trilogy” and “Never Been to Spain”, the “Burning Love” rehearsal, the “If I Can Dream” outtake, the off-air segments from ’68, the non-masters of “Lonely Man”, “Hurt”, “Suspicious Minds”, “Loving You”.. It is a deliberate and clever approach which was much appreciated by this writer.”
Go here to “Bicycle Rider: Thoughts on The Searcher” this is essential reading.
|Dec 3, 2018- ‘Behind The Music- Elvis 68 Television Special’: It was FIFTY YEARS AGO TODAY - that Elvis' stunning 68 NBC Television Special was broadcast in the USA. The programme would become one of the highest rated of the year, Elvis re-discovered his roots, Col Parker was stunned by the reception and Elvis was empowered to choose Memphis' American Sound Studio for his next serious recording session. A string of top-ten Billboard Hits beckoned and his life and ours would never be the same.
EIN contributor Dennis Laverty has compiled a unique documentary called “Behind The Music- Elvis 68 Television Special” to celebrate this great day.
It tells the story of the 'Comeback Special' by those that were there examining the How and Why Elvis career came to this creative point where he desparately needed to do the show. There is discussion of production numbers, sit down, standup shows, the '69 rebirth plus much more.
This special includes ELVIS interviews from 'On Tour'
|and features Scotty Moore, DJ Fontana, Chris Bearde, Steve Binder, Billy Strange, Tanya Lemani Little Egypt, Anita Mann (choreographer), Bill Belew, Earl Brown plus plenty of old compiled interviews from all too many who have sadly passed away.
EIN thanks Dennis Laverty for the input.
Click here to Vimeo. - Sit Back And Celebrate this special day - The video runs around 2 1/2 hours.
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He writes, "I really enjoyed The Searcher documentary, but after watching I wished they would have made it 4 hours. The 1950's skipped what pushed Elvis over-the-top when he appeared on TV, two of his best films and soundtracks (Loving You & Jailhouse Rock), and the backlash he took with his rock and roll Christmas Album. The 1960s unfortunately glossed over American Sound, especially Elvis taking a risk with 'In The Ghetto'.
|The 1970s disappointed when nothing was discussed about Elvis' only concept album (Elvis Country), nor 'He Touched Me' (they could have included unreleased Elvis on Tour footage of gospel segment) and finally with David Porter one of the Execs of the film from Stax Records that nothing was discussed about Elvis' returning to Memphis and STAX to record three key albums.
My goal was just to highlight those stories in some way.
Obviously I don't have access to the Elvis archives at Graceland, but I hope you enjoy.
The following are 10 segments that I thought could have fit into the film."
... EIN totally agrees and thoroughly recommends this 37 minute video.
This is the type of material that should have been in the DVD Extras
CLICK HERE to VIMEO to watch
EIN thanks Dennis Laverty for his input.
(Spotlight, Source;Dennis Laverty/ElvisInfoNet)
'Big Boss Man: What Kind of Technical Advice Did Parker Provide for Elvis’s Movies?': As technical advisor, Colonel Tom Parker was hailed by showbiz bible Variety as an "expert property developer." Though some of the movie properties Elvis’s manager helped develop were incredibly slapdash, that observation does raise one of the most puzzling aspects of the star’s Hollywood career.
How much control did Parker have over Presley’s films, and what kind of technical advice did he provide between 1956 and 1972?
The Colonel developed the strategy – and ensured it was executed. Though his client often complained that he was "tired of these damn movies" in which fought in one scene and sang to a dog in the next, he never decisively rebelled, signifying his distaste by hiding in Memphis for as long as possible until the next shooting schedule beckoned.
Click here to this EIN Spotlight where respected author Paul Simpson takes a fascinating look at Colonel Parker and his input, both positive and negative, into Elvis' film career...
'Elvis was not a Racist'- A Spotlight Revisited: Back in 2005 EIN's Piers Beagley wrote an in-depth look at Elvis' background & cultural influences, discovering a man that not only helped the local black community but who was also key figure in the racial integration of popular music. As James Brown said, "I love him and hope to see him in heaven. There’ll never be another like that soul brother" and Muhammad Ali, "Elvis Presley was the sweetest, most humble and nicest man you'd want to know."
Now in 2012 EIN's good friend Bernard Tanner, Jr. sent us a wonderful letter explaining his reaction when faced with young adults in his hometown of Altanta Georgia accusing Elvis of being a racist. He says.. "My refusal to back down against their impassioned but wrong-headed and false accusations of Presley's race bigotry shocked them.... .. And (often) lost in these arguments is the fact that Elvis was supernally
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See EIN review of 'Prince From Another Planet'
See EIN review of 'A Boy From Tupelo'
See EIN review of 'Young Man With The Big Beat'.
See EIN review of 'Elvis Is Back!' Legacy Edition review:
See EIN review of 'The Complete Elvis Presley Masters' in-depth Review
See EIN review of 'On Stage' 40th Anniversary LEGACY in-depth review:
See EIN review of From Elvis In Memphis (40th Anniversary Legacy Edition)
See EIN review of 'I Believe' BMG Gospel set.
See EIN review of 'The Complete '68 Comeback Special' CD Review:
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