Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Elvis’ Depicts Passionate Artist Trapped by His Own Success

Music manger Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) needs a new act, when he gets wind of a young boy from Mississippi.

By Juice 107.3 Network Wednesday 29 Jun 2022MoviesReading Time: 4 minutes

Throughout his career and in the years since his passing, Elvis Presley has sold an estimated 1.5 billion records worldwide, cementing him as the most successful solo artist to date.

It’s incredible considering the talent of the time and the artists we’ve seen since, but not even Frank Sinatra (150 million albums), Michael Jackson (750 million albums), Taylor Swift (114 million albums) or Justin Bieber (70 million albums) come close to Elvis’ achievement.

It wasn’t just Elvis’ innate talent that attracted his success. As Baz Luhrmann’s new biopic shows, it was the unrelenting business of being “Elvis Presley” that fed the legend of his iconic status and, sadly, catalysed his demise.

It was the unrelenting business of being “Elvis Presley” that fed the legend of his iconic status and, sadly, catalysed his demise.

In Elvis, music manger Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) needs a new act when he gets wind of a young boy from Mississippi whose songs and sound are unlike anything he’s heard before. Tom finds Elvis (Austin Butler) and adds him as an opener to his current tour with Hank Snow (David Wenham), but soon enough it’s Elvis the fans are coming to see and, seeing the opportunity to cash in on his golden goose, Tom signs Elvis and becomes his tour manager.

Austen Butler plays Elvis Presley in the new movie

Source: Supplied

The rest of the story we know: Elvis’ star rises as a singer and actor, he gets threated with jail time for “those moves”, is conscripted to serve in Germany where he falls in love with Pricilla and has a drug addiction fuelled by the pressure of his schedule and position that eventually causes his death.

What Elvis allows us to see for the first time, is how deeply his music was influenced by the African American culture he was immersed in as a child and where faith fits into his perspective on life and art.

Elvis was a symbol of racial reconciliation.

Austen Butler plays Elvis Presley in the new movie

The 2022 Elvis Presley movie

In his day, there were still physical demarcations between where white and non-white people could stand, drink or eat. His affiliations with the black community were unusual and frowned upon by political leaders who saw it as a threat to American society as he popularised “black-sounding” music and “moved like a black man”.

Undeterred by the criticism, Elvis continued to publicly associate with artists lie BB King and Fats Domino and was acutely inspired by their spirit and craft.

Undeterred by the criticism, Elvis continued to publicly associate with artists lie BB King and Fats Domino and was acutely inspired by their spirit and craft.

You can’t ignore the fact – as one scene with BB King points out – that Elvis as a white man achieved success with the music of African America in a way they never could despite the impeccability of their craft.

While Elvis’ songs had his original touch, every argument could be made for the fact that had he not been exposed to the music and culture he was as a boy, he might not have become the phenomenal artist he did.

Austen Butler plays Elvis Presley in the new movie

The sad side of Elvis is in how dysfunctionally he was managed. His talent made him alluring, trapping him in the schemes of too many people with their own agendas.

Drugs are a means of escape for Elvis as he feels the walls close in on him, increasingly aware of the fact neither his life nor his talent are under his control.

It’s a story far too familiar: an artist with raw God-given talent is destructively monetised for everyone’s gain but their own. And yet, Elvis’ experience has been a cautionary tale for other artists entering the industry, allowing them to have eyes wide open to the pitfalls of the process.

It’s a story far too familiar: an artist with raw God-given talent is destructively monetised for everyone’s gain but their own.

The adoration Austin Butler is already receiving for his portrayal of “The King” is well-deserved and, really, it’s only his ability to captivate you that makes Elvis’ two-and-a-half-hour plus runtime pass somewhat quickly.

Austen embodies Elvis’ moves perfectly and is the energy behind all of Baz’s trademark glitzy sensibilities.

The one major setback Elvis has, is it feels oddly like a never-ending hype-reel. Much like the trailer, it uses the sinister narration of Colonel Parker to take you through its beats, building a swelling crescendo of emotion that lands right in Elvis’ lap (and Austin’s eyes), and then does it all again.

Austin embodies Elvis’ moves perfectly and is the energy behind all of Baz’s trademark glitzy sensibilities.

Elvis has a worthwhile big-screen story to tell, but at times it gets in its own way in the telling of it.

Rated M, in cinemas now.