Elvis. The review of the film by Baz Luhrmann

Overwhelming, uncontrolled flaming. A cinema that thinks big where the film is eaten Elvis or Elvis is eaten the film. Body, superhero, divinity. A bomb. Out of competition.

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“Without me Elvis would never have existed.” The voice-off of Tom Hanks’ Colonel Parker recreates the image of him of the famous American singer. It may be the dominant vision, but instead it is one of the many that intersects with the new overflowing, uncontrolled, flamboyant new film by Baz Luhrmann made nine years after The Great Gatsby. Is it the film of the Australian filmmaker’s life? Maybe not, but it’s a cinema that thinks big. It doesn’t stop at the biopic. It contains life and myth and imagery about what many music critics have called the ‘greatest showman of the 20th century’ who died at 42 on August 16, 1977. Elvis is body and superhero, as in the story of his childhood with the pages of a comic. The relationship between him and Colonel Parker spans about 20 years. Rise, fall, rise, death. The resurrection concert, while he sings Suspicious Mind, breaks through the screen. Or it seems to be there, in that concert, where in the hypnosis of Luhrmann’s cinema the real Elvis meet, in all the documentary fragments, and the actor who plays him Austin Butler, known until now mainly for the TV series The Carrie Diaries and Shannara.

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Music takes over Elvis’ body. There on stage, with his unmistakable way of moving, of releasing eroticism, of putting himself at the center of the ‘greatest show in the world’ every time. A crazy dance like that amazing of Moulin rouge! where the singer, like Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman, flies over the décor. In that film there was Paris at the end of the 19th century, here about twenty years of history of the United States, but not only. Elvis is the illusion of a magic of Méliès but also the body of Forrest Gump that runs in time with his music. There are his origins, the black neighborhood where he grew up, the relationship with his father and mother and his wife Priscilla. Then the stage, the mutations in the horror body of rock so much so that a petition had been made to ban the presence on TV.

The lights, the water of the fountains, the face of Elvis spinning inside a roulette wheel as if it were a single. Luhrmann gets rid of previous cinema and TV even if Elvis should be revised with Carpenter’s great TV movie, Elvis, the king of rock 1979. He shows him not only as if he were still alive, but with just some sign of the time that passes between the 1950s and 1970s. Forever Young. Only the Australian filmmaker could blow it up in a cinema that has music in his blood where Elvis is the (definitive?) cinematic metamorphosis of dance champion Scott Hasting’s Ballroom. Dance competition. In fading is the history of the United States of the two decades with the murders of Martin Luther King, Bob Kennedy and Sharon Tate which then become subjective hallucinations, in a cinema that constantly breaks down, that uses split-screen and divided the screen in three parts, because this film may still be too small to show a gigantic figure. Luhrmann throws himself into the void and for him the only way to tell Elvis is the one with which Orson Welles dubbed himself in Charles Foster Kane in Fourth Estate. Objects act as filters, they are prisms. The legend, as in Romeo + Juliet by William Shakespearecomes back for a moment a flesh and blood or as in a dream but then turns again, in those bright colors, where life, the set, the show are the same thing, as in the image offered by Elvis and his father after the death of the mother.

There is no balance. But who cares. Indeed, the enormous beauty of the film is precisely in the imbalance. The grandeur, the Elvis explosion is right here. The movie eats Elvis. Elvis eats the movie. Luhrmann shows him as if he were already a myth, with female audiences adoring him as a deity returning to earth in the film’s time, around 150 minutes, to show himself as in his Graceland estate or museum (true, fictional) about him in the world. Only James Mangold with When love burns the soul. Walk the Line he had gone so far as to resurrect Johnny Cash. His beautiful film has a more traditional structure. In Luhrmann’s cinema there is nothing more of a classic because there has never been anything. The unnecessary and necessary framing are the same thing. Life, death, resurrection of a cinema that reflects on Elvis. The only possible film about him. Immense like him.

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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