45 years ago, Elvis Presley passed away. Has the movie “Elvis” managed to revive him at last?
Young fans are being introduced to a vintage, almost forgotten manner of rock star performance because to Austin Butler’s sexually explicit rendition of Elvis Presley.
Elvis Presley was discovered dead in the toilet of his opulent Graceland house in Memphis on August 16, 1977, 45 years ago. His cause of death was officially listed as cardiac arrest, but the prescription narcotics in his system undoubtedly didn’t help. Resurrecting Presley and his legacy has become a recurrent pop-culture rite in the decades since. A jukebox musical, multiple opulent box sets and reissues, an EDM remix, documentaries (most recently Elvis Presley: The Searcher from 2018), and biopics were among the promotions (starring Kurt Russell and a pre-Miami Vice Don Johnson).
Even with the best of intentions, each attempt to introduce Presley to a new generation fell short since they were all preaching to the same devoted and developing King choir.
The thought of converting Gen Z and millennials into Elvis fans looked like an even more Herculean undertaking when it was revealed in 2019 that unabashedly outrageous director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!) would be next in line to make a dramatic feature out of Presley’s life.
What possible attraction could there be in an icon whose first recordings were released over 70 years ago for a generation that grew up with hip-hop, Max Martin-pumped pop, and early ’00s pop-punk as their connection to rock? Or one who has been criticised by some for being racist, appropriating culture, and being a representation of bloated pop excess? Elvis Aaron Presley ought to be as current in the twenty-first century as an eight-track recording of Moody Blue.
However, in what seems to be a minor miracle or a brilliant marketing ploy, Luhrmann’s Elvis has managed to appeal to both those born this century and the Presley faithful, who on Monday night stood in line for hours to pass Presley’s grave at Graceland’s candlelight vigil. A startlingly high percentage for an artist who rocked their grandparents, according to Comscore, about one-fifth of those who bought a ticket when the movie first came out in June were members of the millennial and generation Z generation. The biopic’s total revenue as of this week is over $141 million, which is more than respectable but not nearly on the level of a Marvel movie. Austin Butler, who plays both the youthful and battered Elvis and figuratively grows into the part as the movie progresses, is even the subject of Oscar speculation.
Presley’s physical and online music sales have increased since the film’s debut. According to Luminate Data, his streaming-on-demand stats for the entire year are greater than 527 million. In contrast, Doja Cat, who can be heard singing “Hound Dog” in the movie, has around 2.1 billion fans compared to Nirvana’s 741 million. The Elvis soundtrack, a perplexing mashup of remakes, remixes, and a few Presley original compositions, has wiggled its way into the Top 30. (The Presley catalogue will soon include an extended, seven-disc explosion of the 1972 live album Elvis on Tour.) Elvis Is Back!, to borrow a phrase from one of his earlier albums, Or at the very least, more than anyone could have ever anticipated.
The movie itself is a sloppy peanut butter and banana sandwich, as my colleague K. Austin Collins has written. As Alanna Nash, author of The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley, has gathered, it also fudges, misrepresents, or overdramatizes aspects of Presley’s story. Presley’s opposition to several of Parker’s plans appears, at best, overblown. By the end, Tom Hanks’ Parker’s villainy is almost ludicrous. However, the film doesn’t gloss over Elvis’ decline, and Butler convincingly portrays the modern Elvis, notably when he performs “If I Can Dream” from his 1968 NBC-TV special. The dark side of pop culture that Luhrmann presents is nearly matched by his use of excessive cinematic effects.