It will take a few minutes for the face of Elvis Presley to finally be shown. By pushing back the unveiling of his star, Baz Luhrmann makes her the central object. Like a carpet behind a heavy red curtain, the spectator is impatient to discover Austin Butler dressed up as King or rather as a young prince.
Fascinating, hypnotic, Austin Butler is the great revelation ofElvis. Despite the reluctance of some, he manages to perfectly embody the man who made a whole generation dream. From his world-famous swaying hips to micro-expressions and hair movements, the actor is more than true to who he personifies. Because yes, when you play Elvis Presley, you don’t just play a celebrity, you embody a legend.
Danny Zuko’s ancestor
Sold to the viewer as a living god, thanks to the very heavy narration of the impresario (the only real hiccup in the film), he is also staged as such. In the same way that Elvis drew all eyes, Butler attracts the camera like a magnet, and this until the end, even when the King’s face has changed and he is only the ghost of himself.
As one might expect, Elvis doesn’t deviate from the classic biopic rule of showing the flashback of fame, but this second part, calmer, is no less interesting than the very rhythmic first part. In fact, it would have been a shame to focus only on the glorious moments when the King fell and found himself completely doped, artificially kept alive by raptors.
The one we were described as a bird ready to take flight, found himself deprived of his wings and gradually withered away. As he did in Gatsby the magnificent, Luhrmann is interested in a tragic figure, although admired by allto an obsessed with excess who will suffer the consequences of his fame.
The object of all desires
the Devil in Disguise
Elvis don’t forget to remind us that the downfall of the King of rock n’ roll is largely due to his meeting with Colonel Parker, diabolical impresario, even downright Machiavellian, who sees in him the ideal livelihood. As usual, Baz Luhrmann does not go with the back of the spoon and makes Tom Hanks a real cartoon villainvery caricatured and a follower of “entourloupes” as he constantly repeats.
More than a profiteer, he is shown as a monster through creepy prosthetics and distorting visual effects, as during the sequence in the hall of mirrors at the funfair which makes him as deformed as he is omnipresent. He does not see in Elvis a man capable of changing the world of music, but a freak capable of making him the richest of men, which he will be for a time. First presented as the master of the dance, he becomes a surrogate mother for the King.
The shadow that sticks to her skin
In addition to making his main character the idol of the crowds, the filmmaker reminds us that he is also the first historical victim of merchandising. The attractive and provocative face of Elvis is found plastered on cushions, cups and other objects of all kinds. Cleverly, Baz Luhrmann does his little lesson in media history and insists on the interest of having detractors and the importance also, for the Colonel, of making a profit on their backs, because yes, everything is always a question silver.
Intensely musical, Elvis also uses music to reflect the character’s state of mind, it becomes a common thread allowing them to insist on their emotions. Thus, when the King defies authority and decides not to settle down, he makes his song Trouble emblem of his freedom, and when he finds himself stuck in Las Vegas while he wanted to travel the world, it is obviously Suspicious Minds he sings and the famous phrase “Caught in a trap” then takes on its full meaning.
Elvis also surprises when he quotes the news and decides not to make the King a universal star, but a celebrity of his time, who constantly responds to the concerns of his time and who is above all influenced by them. Committed against racial discrimination, Elvis Presley is shown as a politicized person who will never really be able to make his voice heard because of the non-selling aspect of the policy. It must remain a dream, a fantasy.
Luhrmann makes this desire for commitment a real challenge for his character, confined to keeping quiet and putting on a good face despite some exhilarating moments of rebellion. Touched by the assassinations of Senator Bob Kennedy and Martin Luther King, subjugated by the segregation that rages even in his concertsElvis suffers from his impotence.
While the film could have simply focused on the figure of Elvis, “the white man who sang like a black man”, it also pays homage to his musical influences and his love for Rhythm and blues and gospel. A love he has had since his childhood, since he was touched by the grace of black music and a gospel that transcended him. Big Mama Thornton, BB King and even the young Little Richard make their appearance and show another facet of the 1950s-70s by evoking these artists who were then not allowed to go on the radio.
Big Mama Thornton
THE TOURBILLON OF baz
If you only needed to know one thing about Baz Luhrmann before seeing Elvisis that he loves dizzy its spectators and clearly, his new film is no exception to his hallowed style. If the editing is already electric, connecting sometimes very short shots in a dizzying frenzy, the filmmaker also allows himself visual experiments between split screen galore and even an animated sequence in comic strip.
Baz Lurhmann proves once again that he loves montage-sequences and these work wonderfully, especially when the music that accompanies them is anachronistic, makingElvis a pop visual object. As usual, the filmmaker does not just tell a story, he uses all the technical possibilities in his possession to explain his point, which could confuse some. The camera swirls, zooms in then zooms out, the shots follow each other frantically and extradiegetic sounds constantly tickle our ears.
But this visual identity never interferes with the biographical narrative and, as one could not imagine a biopic on Marilyn Monroe without a plan where her white dress flies away, one could not imagine a biopic on Elvis without a shovelful of moments that have become iconic and Baz Luhrmann understood it well. The reconstruction of certain passages now inscribed in pop culture is impressively realistic and we owe this in part to Catherine Martin, the decorator, costume designer and incidentally companion of Baz Luhrmann, artistic director on all his films.
Whether it’s when he’s forced to cut his hair to go to the army, when he comes back dressed all in leather for his television comeback or during his performances in Vegas, Austin Butler fades behind the King and Elvis connoisseurs will most likely be touched by this craving for realism. Luhrmann skillfully embeds archival footage throughout his film, images that will go unnoticed by the eyes of untrained viewers, but which will seduce admirers of the King and confirm that Baz Luhrmann has done an exciting job of re-enactment.