Stunted?, A Review of Elvis by Baz Luhrmann

Mr. Luhrmann’s biopic finally made it to streaming and, therefore, ahem, “undocumented” streaming, which means, finally made it to my laptop. I’d been waiting for months—so long in fact that I nearly watched a cam version. In short, I’m glad I waited. There was nothing that I missed by not being part of the initial watch party, and there was plenty that I’m glad I saw in decent quality, both picture and sound.

Skipping to the end, though, unlike Elvis’ at least momentary ability to gain satisfaction on the “love” front, I was left unsatisfied.

The chosen vehicle to deliver Elvis to us is the “unparalleled talent held back by abusing manager”. Despite this choice, the movie and the man seem to cry out that there must’ve been more to Elvis Aaron Presley. He couldn’t have just been “Elvis” because he constantly broke his manager’s barriers. And we all know, or those of us who read lyrics all know, that every artist views themselves as restricted, even in their most untamed seeming creations.

I call your attention to Exhibit A: Tool has a song in which he describes how a fan calls him a “sell out” and then he, MJK, responds, “All you know about me’s what I sold ya, dumbf*^%/I sold out long before you ever even heard my name…” among other fairly harsh truths on topic.

Over here is Exhibit B: Metallica released a collaboration with Lou Reed that was widely and thoroughly panned by critics. I think it’s the last CD I bought at Best Buy. Or second to last. When someone told the drummer that it was very hard to listen to, he replied, “You should try performing it!”

The nicest review I found at the time was written by, if memory serves, someone from Mastodon. He essentially argued, “Good for Metallica.” He said that Metallica is so big that they actually had a chance to release something that they wanted to release, no input from anyone. Sure, he went on, it’s no good. But none of us have achieved or probably will achieve the ability to make truly pure art like they did. (My paraphrase.)

In short, Mr. Luhrmann’s Elvis comes across as merely trope (rare adjectival use) and yet, after what I just saw, Elvis Aaron Presley couldn’t have been so one-sided. The most important thing about him couldn’t have been that his manager held him back if it’s common knowledge to a mid-western kid like me that no musicians are free from stunting managerial oversight (excepting all-mighty ‘tallica, of course).

In the end, it was a decent film, had stirring sequences and the ending was unavoidably emotional. But it didn’t quite do justice to the wiggly flesh exterior, the blood-pumping heart that lay beneath, or the invisible soul that would not be told who to be that I have to believe filled Elvis Aaron Presley—the man I’d want to have met.

On that front, Mr. Luhrmann succeeded. I’d never had that thought before the film. I’d always pictured a Vegas has-been. While I still think there was a sharper image to be portrayed by a film, I definitely had my perception changed. And that is rare these days. So while it’s true that Elvis has left the building, I say, long live the king.


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