"Elvis Presley is the greatest cultural force in the 20th century."
"If you're an Elvis fan, no explanation is necessary; If you're not an Elvis fan, no explanation is possible."
"For a dead man, Elvis Presley is awfully noisy."
(Professor Gilbert B. Rodman)
"History has him as this good old country boy, Elvis is about as country as Bono!"
"Absolute id crashed into absolute superego...as the uptightset man in America shook hands with just about the loosest."
(Mark Feeney on the 'Elvis meets Nixon' meeting)
"Elvis is everywhere"
(Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper)
"...especially in the South, they talk about Elvis and Jesus in the same breath"
(Michael Ventura, LA Weekly)
"The image is one thing and the human being is another...it's very hard to live up to an image"
(Elvis Presley, Madison Square Garden press conference, 1972)
"Elvis was a major hero of mine. I was actually stupid enough to believe that having the same birthday as him actually meant something"
"No-one, but no-one, is his equal, or ever will be. He was, and is supreme"
"I wasn't just a fan, I was his brother...there'll never be another like that soul brother"
(Soul legend, James Brown)
"Before Elvis there was nothing!"
"There were rock 'n' roll records before Heartbreak Hotel, but this was the one that didn't just open the door…it literally blasted the door off its rusted, rotten, anachronistic hinges…. producing....no propelling...an unstoppable, fundamental and primordial shift in not only musical... but social, political and cultural history"
(JNP, BBC website)
The Importance of Being Elvis
Elvis Aaron Presley’s death has been mourned, celebrated, noted and griped about for so long now that it has taken on a life of its own. As of this past August 16, Dead Elvis, as I shall call this phenomenon, is twenty-eight years old, and 'He,' as it were, has outlived many of His fans, one or two members of the Memphis Mafia, and even the seemingly eternal Colonel Tom. In honor of this anniversary, I wish to briefly cover His influence on motion pictures since that fateful day He was 'born' in late summer 1977. Herewith are the best and the worst products from the three subcategories of a film genre I like to call, in tribute to a cool sounding film that director Stephen Frears has tried but failed to launch for the past several years, 'The Importance of Being Elvis.'
First off are the biopics, all twenty-plus of them television movies, suggesting that, as far as studio Grand Poobah’s are concerned, serious studies of the King’s life are not considered worthy of big screen theatrical treatments. Still, almost all of these products of network and cable TV have been guaranteed ratings grabbers, and some of them were pretty good. The first, and the best, was 1979’s 'Elvis - The Movie' in which Kurt Russell came the closest of any actor to embodying Himself from the early cracklings of stardom to His days of shooting any television set that had the temerity to broadcast the Beatles.
It took only two years for the networks to bring us what was easily the worst of the lot, 'Elvis and The Beauty Queen' with a decidedly un-Kingly Don Johnson fumbling through an absurd account of his five-year dalliance with Miss Universe. Not wishing to be outshone by some floozy, not to mention a greasy runt who didn’t look anything like her ex-hubby, the official Widow Presley, Priscilla, spearheaded the respectable miniseries, 'Elvis and Me' which starred the then - and still - unknown Dale Midkoff and Susan Walters. Easily the most inspired TV bio - though, technically, it covered one afternoon in His life, the meeting between Himself and Richard Nixon that resulted in one of the most famous handshakes of all time - was 'Elvis Meets Nixon' with, respectively, Rick Peters and Bob Gunton bringing ludicrous life to these two giants. And just this past year, Jonathan Rhys-Myers did a credible job playing The Man, covering roughly the same time span as did Kurt Russell in a miniseries called, strangely enough, 'Elvis.'
An even greater abundance of documentaries and concert films about Dead Elvis are floating in the home video stratosphere, but the only one since His creation to receive a major release was 1981’s 'This is Elvis.' Sponsored by the good people of Graceland, the film treads lightly on His enjoyment of drugs, peanut butter and one-way mirrors, and is hampered by reenactments of scenes from His life by a series of actors. Still, it manages to be a touching look at His decline from strapping superstar to bloated bumbler - and the real life footage of The Man sputtering through His very last concert appearance is truly heart breaking.
As for the remaining sixty-plus titles, most of them are quickie straight-to-video/DVD products with little merit. A standout among these, if for no other reason than its sheer ineptitude, is 'All the King’s Men.' Focusing on the Memphis Mafia, the entourage who stood by 'The Pelvis' from the time he started moving his midsection in public, to His fatal attempt to move His bowels at home, this is nothing more than an hour long interview with the boys in the late 1990’s in what looks to be a basement rec room. With only a few still photos of them with their boss to liven up the proceedings, this home movie contains a hilarious scene near the end of the subjects all crying in unison while His rendition of 'My Way' plays on the soundtrack. This painfully phony performance makes one appreciate Live Elvis’ zombiefied acting in His thirty-one starring vehicles.
As for movies concerning fictional characters who are in some way affected by Him and His memory, the number is hopelessly infinite, but some standouts can be gleaned from the morass. Perhaps the best work in this final subcategory of my home brew genre is Jim Jarmusch’s 'Mystery Train.' Detailing one night with three sets of characters in a flea bag hotel in Memphis, at least one member of each cluster is in some way obsessed by the King, and this obsession turns their cohort’s lives around for better ... or worse. Two dearly departed rock legends, Screaming Jay Hawkins and Joe Strummer, inject the happenings with some serious Elvis mojo.
In regards to all those impersonators we’ve seen on the news, at the fair, or perhaps in our own homes (including those creepy dudes who had their faces surgically altered to look like Him) two opposing attitudes can be found in the annals of Dead Elvis filmography. In the delightful 'Honeymoon in Vegas,' a platoon of parachuting Preselys help lovable lug Nicolas Cage save his sweetie Sarah Jessica Parker from the clutches of mob kingpin James Caan (who has now beaten Christopher Walken in playing more such kingpins than any actor alive). Conversely, a crew of Evil Elvi - one of them played by Kurt Russell, no less - slaughters the patrons of a casino they are heisting, before going on to betray and waste one another, in the appalling '3,000 Miles to Graceland,' which is surely the worst execution of a great movie concept in recent memory.
Continuing in the annals of crime, the ghost of EP, as portrayed by professional rock star impersonator Val Kilmer, gives advice to small time crook Christian Slater in the equally wretched 'True Romance.' And for those of us who are curious as to what he would up to today if all those tabloid sightings were correct, one need look no further than Bruce Campbell’s portrayal of a septuagenarian Pelvis saving his fellow nursing home residents from a plague of zombies in the hilarious 'Bubba Ho-Tep.'
And on that rousing note, I’ll end my Dead Elvis birthday salute. Yes, the past three decades have brought us a kajillion more movies directly about, indirectly regarding, or ever so lightly touched by the most famous ex-truck driver in history, and I’d love to tackle them all. But I only have so much space in which to pay homage to the death and cinematic influence of the entertainer who, more than any other, has stained my life ... whether I wanted Him to or not. I’ll leave it to some other brave soul to officially catalogue and comment on those 792 (and counting) movies, 22,792 (and counting) books, 40,485 (and counting) memorabilia items, and, last but hardly least, 300 (and a-count-count-countin’!) albums of fine music.
All I can add to this ocean of information, noise and imagery is that, despite what many cynics say - including my long time Elvis-fan brother - Dead Elvis will not only live for another twenty-eight years, but possibly another twenty-eight kajillion. Chances are good as a gold commode that our descendants, in the process of being inspired by, irritated with, and, on occasion, dressing like Tupelo’s Favorite Son, shall never forget The Importance of Being Elvis.
(Source: John Ervin/Film Fanatic At Large, Elites TV, 22 Aug 2005)
"Elvis Presley is the supreme socio-cultural icon in the history of pop culture"
(Dr. Gary Enders)
" Elvis is the 'glue' which holds our society together....which subconciously gives our world meaning"
"Eventually everybody has to die, except Elvis"
(humorist Dave Barry)
"He is the "Big Bang", and the universe he detonated is still expanding, the pieces are still flying"
(Greil Marcus, "Dead Elvis")
"I think Elvis Presley will never be solved"
"He was the most popular man that ever walked on this planet since Christ himself was here"
"When I first heard Elvis' voice I just knew I wasn't going to work for anybody...hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail"
"When we were kids growing up in Liverpool, all we ever wanted was to be Elvis Presley"
(Sir Paul McCartney)