America, mid 50s. Music promoter Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) drives country singer Hank Snow around the various southern states. Performances are neither shaky nor rolls. At some point, Hank Snow’s son Jimmy (Cody Smith-McPhee) brought Parker to listen to the song “That’s Allright Mama”, recorded by an unknown boy named Elvis Presley. It was a blues composition performed in a very unusual rhythm. Parker was sure it was some black performer, but Neal said Elvis was white.
And this is where Parker became very interested in this Presley: a white kid singing like black performers – that could be interesting. And then the colonel saw how original Elvis behaves on stage – weird, almost obscene wiggling of the hips, driving the girls in the audience crazy – and realized that this guy could make him, Parker, a lot of money.
This was the beginning of a long-term collaboration between Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley, which lasted twenty-three years – until Elvis’ death in August 1977.
To be honest, I was not aware that Baz Luhrmann directed Elvis: otherwise, I would hardly have watched this movie at all. His previous film, The Great Gatsby, is a very bright, very long, gleaming and continuously iridescent tearful and snotty bullshit. And I would have no reason to believe that he would not do something similar from Elvis – we certainly would not have received a really serious biopic about the King from him. But I didn’t know who directed this film, so I decided to watch it.
Well, in general, Luhrmann remained true to himself. Really very spectacular, very impressive and very beautiful. He knows how to take pictures and loves them. And there is no biopic about Elvis as a class. A purely scripted decision to tell about Elvis in the words of his promoter Colonel Tom Parker and show Elvis through his eyes is not a bad decision, especially since the colonel was portrayed by Tom Hanks, who, as I read in his interview, had to spend five hours before each shooting dressing room chair.
However, all this looks rather strange, because in the words of the colonel himself, he, in fact, tells what this Parker, in essence, was a vile scoundrel: yes, he actually “discovered” Elvis and elevated him to the pinnacle of fame, but he also tried to take away Elvis has his rebellious spirit and makes Presley sing stupid family songs, he sent him to the army, he refused any foreign tours, he stuffed the singer with pills and all sorts of drugs, he ended up actually locking Elvis in Las Vegas, where he became completely drug addicted and died. At least that’s what the movie tells us.
As usual with Luhrmann, everything is very pompous, brilliant and clumsy. It may have been quite suitable for a story about Elvis, who preferred a specific kitsch in clothes and settings, but here everything is somehow too grotesque: it seems that you are not watching a movie about a real-life singer who had a huge impact on the entire world. modern music, and you are shown some kind of movie comic about Villainous Parker (Hanks’ make-up is still quite caricatured, like the Colonel’s manner of speaking) and Elvis the Good Guy.
Tom Hanks, as you know, does not play the role of any villains: he only takes on positive characters, and they come out very well with him. However, here, according to the plot, the colonel is certainly a negative character, which is also emphasized in every way by the make-up and manner of speaking: this Parker is sticky, mean, greedy and hypocritical.
Was he really like that? Numerous books written about Elvis and Parker himself paint a slightly different picture. By the way, in reality this man was neither a colonel, nor Tom, nor Parker. His name was Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk and he was born on June 26, 1909 in Breda, the Netherlands. As a child, he worked as a barker at carnivals in his hometown, learning many skills that he clearly needed later when he worked in the entertainment industry.
From the age of 15 to 17, Andreas worked on various ships in Rotterdam, and when he was 17 he entered America illegally by jumping off his employer’s ship. In the States, he served in the army for two years, while taking the name Tom Parker from one of the officers: by the way, in doing so, he automatically lost his Dutch citizenship, so that in reality he became a person without any citizenship at all. After being fired, he started working in the music industry – well, it went and went.
He had the opportunity to legalize in the States and get a passport, but he did not use this. According to one version – because of the fear that his army sins might come up – he went AWOL, he was tried for desertion, and Parker had to sit in solitary confinement, after which he ended up in a psychiatric hospital for a while. According to another version, a criminal case was opened in his hometown on the fact of the murder of a young woman, where Parker was not only a suspect, but something connected him with this case such that he was afraid of a possible extradition to the Netherlands.
He formally had the title of “colonel”: namely, the title of “colonel of the militia”, which he received from the country singer Jimmy Davis: Parker helped him in the campaign headquarters – he became the governor of Louisiana. There was no militia in Louisiana, that is, the title was kind of honorary, but in fact – fictitious, but Parker actively used it, and for many people he was just a “colonel”.
Then Parker stumbled upon Elvis, began actively promoting him, and off and on. Did he play a prominent role in Elvis’ career? Yes, of course, there is no doubt about it: he played a huge role, and Elvis himself called Parker “the smartest person” and paid tribute to his managerial talents.
Did he have any miscalculations? Yes, of course there were, who doesn’t have them? However, there were also major achievements that helped Elvis become what he became. Was he opposed to Presley’s overseas tours? Yes, how. But for one simple reason – he himself simply could not participate in them, he did not have a passport, which he carefully concealed.
Did he put Elvis on the pills? It does not appear at all that Parker was involved, but there is evidence that the Colonel apparently ignored the fact that Presley had become specifically addicted to the pills and that he needed medical attention.
Was there any friction between them? There were from time to time. In September 1973, Presley terribly quarreled with Barron Hilton because of the dismissal of one of the Hilton employees, Parker was furious about this, he himself had a fight with Elvis, and he said that he was firing Parker. To which Tom replied that Presley could not fire him, and he was leaving on his own.
Then Parker really put up a huge bill to Elvis’s father, who headed the company, for terminating the contract, only the amount of two million appeared there, and not eight, as shown in the film. They could not redeem the contract then, Elvis and Parker exchanged insults for two weeks, after which they decided to forget everything and continue working together.
In general, after studying the history of Tom Parker and his work as a singer’s manager, the image that is shown in the film somehow does not emerge at all.
Several actors were considered for the role of Elvis – Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Harry Styles auditioned. Luhrmann was told about Austin Butler by Denzel Washington, who starred with Butler in the production of The Iceman Cometh on Broadway.
Austin Butler as Elvis is really good. He also had to spend several hours in the make-up chair – different makeup was used for different periods of Presley’s life – the actor himself sings great, imitating Elvis, and moves exactly like Elvis. And it even traces some part of the charisma of the King, who had absolutely incredible magnetism, noticeable even from the records, and what was happening in the hall during his performances is well understood from the old videos.
Another thing is that a real real person behind this role is not visible. And this is by no means the fault of the actor, this is the style of staging, characteristic of Baz Luhrmann. Everything is very formulaic, often quite snotty (about 30% snotty, if you take The Great Gatsby as 100%) and almost always picturesque. Good guy Elvis, fighting with the sinister fat man Colonel Parker, who skillfully pulls the singer into his sticky nets.
A similar story was with Bohemian Rhapsody, where Rami Malek portrayed Freddie Mercury with complete self-denial, however, the script, which was under the strict control of the rest of the Queen members, did not allow Freddie to be shown as he was, as a result of which the actor had to focus on purely external aspects of Mercury’s behavior.
Here – the same. There is no living person behind the character that Baz Luhrmann draws. Elvis frowns picturesquely, Elvis says something angrily to his Memphis relatives, Elvis picturesquely rebels against the colonel, but this is all pure comics. It’s only on stage, when Luhrmann allows Butler to portray Elvis the way he wants and how he can, that the magic begins to happen – especially in the scene when Elvis begins to try out a new sound in the huge hall of a newly built Las Vegas hotel. Right there – it’s really cool, this scene just made its way.
What is the result? Pure Baz Luhrmann! There is no normal story, there is a glossy comic book from the series “so that schoolgirls get emotional.” At the same time, Tom Hanks convincingly portrays the villain in the form of Parker, who didn’t seem to be one, and Butler very talentedly portrays Elvis on stage, and not on stage, it’s such a blank cardboard with eyes full of bottomless tears – Luhrmann loves it.
The rest of the entourage is rich, bright and interesting, with completely schematic strokes the director gives the main stages of the formation of Elvis, external tinsel often overshadows the content that is not very capacious, well, it should be noted that the picture with its 159 minutes is shamelessly tightened, from it could easily cut off at least half an hour.
And Luhrmann also boasts that there is another 4-hour directorial series, 8-hour, 12-hour – further with all the stops up to the full life of the King, which Luhrmann managed to recreate.
Like a biopic – not a biopic at all, like a movie about Elvis – not a movie about Elvis at all, like all sorts of video clips based on the life of Presley – well, it will do. It’s just not very clear why it all has to go on for two hours and forty minutes.
That’s all I can tell you about this.
PS Photo of the colonel with Elvis in different periods of their lives.
Elvis / Elvis
Director: Baz Luhrmann Cast: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJong, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Calvin Harrison, David Wenham, Cody Smith-McPhee, Luke Bracey, Daker Montgomery
Budget: $85M, Worldwide gross: $282M
Musical drama, USA-Australia, 2022, 159 min.