The new Elvis film, like the king it celebrates, is beautiful, moving, inspiring, entertaining — and ultimately a tragedy.
By: Joseph Serwach
The new Elvis film reminds us why we call him “the king,” as he sings with all his heart, body, and soul — an unquenchable passion that took his life at 42.
“You touch my hand, and I’m a king,” he sang. And it happened.
Like a true king, he knew from birth he had a one-of-a-kind grace: “You have the strength of two men inside you,” he always heard. His mother considered him a “miracle child” because his twin brother was born first and died, but Elvis got “the double portion,” surviving and thriving.
The new 2022 film, opening today with the beloved Tom Hanks playing the unscrupulous promoter Colonel Tom Parker, makes Austin Butler, 30, a major star in a cast that convincingly captures the essence of the real stars we know well.
It’s quickly apparent why Presley’s widow and daughter thought the film captured the real people perfectly. We similarly see why its debut merited a 12-minute standing ovation.
Captain Marvel Jr. inspired Elvis (note their similar outfits)
Elvis Presley lived and loved like an adventure-seeking boy. He explained:
“I read comic books, and I was the hero of the comic book. I saw movies, and I was the hero in the movie. So every dream that I ever dreamed has come true many times. I learned very early in life that without a song, the day would never end.”
Like his comic-book hero, Captain Marvel Jr., Presley focused on finding his Rock of Eternity (the crazy Elvis jumpsuits of his later years are not unlike Captain Marvel Jr.’s costume). He feared being forgotten, but like the most fabulous kings, his stories will be celebrated for centuries.
He ended his last 1977 TV concert by singing an American anthem, “I did it my way.” But perhaps even more fittingly, the last words he publicly sang on any stage summed up his never-ending desire to be with his fans: “I need your love, God speed your love to me.”
We call him the king because no solo artist in rock history topped him. And as with a great king, last names weren’t necessary. Say “Elvis,” and everyone knows exactly who you mean.
“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t going away.” ― Elvis Presley.
The King is dead: Why we recall exactly where we were
Forty-five years later, I still remember exactly where I was when the news of his death broke. I was just 13 but knew instinctively what big news it was.
Our dad pulled up to get us at our grandmother’s house, so I felt the need to shout the news to him on the streets below: “The King is dead!” Of course, Americans don’t call many people “the king,” but the title fits Elvis.
Then-President Jimmy Carter called him a global “symbol of the vitality, rebelliousness, and good humor of his country.”
“Elvis Presley’s death deprives our country of a part of itself. He was unique and irreplaceable,” Carter explained. “His music and his personality, fusing the styles of white country and black rhythm and blues, permanently changed the face of American popular culture.”
What seems like a disadvantage is also part of your unique gift
When Elvis was young, his father went to prison for nine months on forgery charges, and the other father figure in his life, Colonel Tom Parker, also seems dishonest and self-serving.
But Elvis became far more critical to his mother when the other father figures let them both down. Their poverty made them move into a black, low-income neighborhood, but this introduced the young Elvis to uniquely black culture, including music and Christian revival tents where people shook and gyrated as they became filled with the Holy Spirit.
This twitching of his hips and arms as he performed became his signature move, earning him the “Elvis the Pelvis” nickname and exciting female members of the audience who screamed with delight as he shook.
“When things go wrong, don’t go with them.” ― Elvis Presley
Like other kings, Elvis rose to power — and fought his way back
Elvis Presley had a natural talent and what his mother considered God-given gifts to rise to fame. But his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, ran the business to maximize profits, merchandising everything from “I love Elvis” shirts to “I hate Elvis” buttons.
His mother warned him, “You’re losing yourself,” but she died of a heart attack when she was just 46. Elvis was just 23, leaving him at the whims of his father and Parker. So he felt more lost than ever. And that’s how Parker was able to take so much of his money and make him feel like a prisoner. Elvis explains, “When you’re lost, people take advantage.”
“A lot of people are saying a lot of things, but you’ve got to listen to the people you love,” the film’s Elvis tells a crowd being scrutinized by wary police guards ready to arrest him if he incites a riot with his supposedly lewd gyrating.
Parker arranged for Presley to enter the Army and return two years later as a clean-cut symbol of America and a new film star. Parker explains: “His life became a big movie,” and he became Hollywood’s highest-paid star.
But Elvis, seeing the character he created was becoming a caricature, finally laments, “I’m so tired of playing Elvis Presley.”
His wife sees, “You’re only happy when you’re singing the music you love,” so he quickly resurrects the spiritual Gospel music and other love-filled songs that brought him joy.
As 1960s civil unrest tears the nation apart, he introduces protest songs like “If I Can Dream” and repeats a black minister’s mantra, “When things are too dangerous to say, sing.”
Parker assures him, “No one can sell a show to an audience like you.”
Priscilla Presley gushes, “You were incredible. You were everything,” foreshadowing the enablers who encouraged him to keep the “Elvis Empire” going while remaining dangerously addicted to medications keeping him going.
He feels “caught in a trap,” a slave to the debts accumulated due to Parker’s greed, and his own addictions to drugs, the fame, and the inner circle depending on him to work, but ultimately he explains, “I’m Elvis Presley — that’s what I do.”
Eddie Murphy, who similarly shot to stardom at a young age, said in an interview, “I don’t think anyone in this business had as strong of a presence. When Elvis walked into a room, everyone just looked at Elvis. He was going through all these things with drugs and craziness, but on stage and screen, he always looked like he was in control.”
Like a true king?
“Sad thing is, you can still love someone and be wrong for them.” ― Elvis Presley