I recently watched the movie ELVIS. It’s definitely worth seeing, but I came away with mixed feelings. Austin Butler, who played the lead did a terrific job portraying Elvis when he was young and just breaking into the business as well as when he was older and making a comeback. He had the moves, the voice, and the mannerisms down perfectly. Nobody could have played the part better.
I can’t comment on Tom Hank’s portrayal of Colonel Tom Parker because while we are all familiar with the name, Colonel Tom was always in the background, so we never got to really know him.
Too bad so many people watching this movie today weren’t around to see the young Elvis who electrified audiences. The movie attempted to show how Steve Allen, a devout hater of rock and roll, tried to humiliate Elvis by forbidding him from shaking any part of his body except for his finger and making him sing to a live hound dog. The movie showed a small group of teens outraged by this mockery, but it failed to convey how widespread the backlash actually was. Kids from coast to coast rebuffed this insult to their idol and attack on their music. The establishment simply had yet to comprehend the financial power 76 million baby boomers would have on the nation’s economy.
The movie quickly moved to Elvis being drafted in an attempt to show how the older generation tried to nip the rock and roll movement in the bud. This quick shift made it appear as though the establishment had won, that they had snuffed out the flame and that Elvis was finished until his comeback concert in 1968.
What really happened was that after Steve Allen’s mockery, Elvis appeared on the Ed Sullivan show three times, sending TV ratings through the roof. For four straight years prior to Elvis’ notorious army induction, he completely dominated the record charts. The Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson, Buddy Holly and others might have been in the running for number two, but there was no question as to who was number one.
The movie did a great job showing his intimate connection with black artists and how Elvis felt the music from his head to his toes and turned his body loose in reaction to it. It was this sexual hip-swiveling that scared grownups the most.
But Elvis also sang deeply emotional ballads. Perhaps the best example of this is the song “Love Me.” Mike Stoller, who with his partner Jerry Lieber, wrote many of Elvis’ biggest hits, said they once wrote an amusing song about a poor sap who was so in love with this girl he’d do anything to be with her. Elvis didn’t treat it as a silly tune. He felt the pain of this poor guy and when he sang the words, “Treat me like a fool, treat me mean and cruel, but love me,” he ripped our hearts out.
The movie does a good job of showing why Elvis was loved by black audiences as well as white. Some revisionists say that all Elvis did was copy black music, but black artists at the time, like Little Richard and B. B. King, understood that Elvis kicked the door open so that black music could be heard on radio stations other than just the so-called “race” stations.
The movie was good, although it sometimes jumped around so much that even scenes that looked as though they were going to be really interesting became nothing more than a flash, while other scenes were dragged out unnecessarily. I couldn’t help feeling that the incredible performance of this young actor could have been put to better use.
Thank goodness this movie didn’t portray teens as goofy comic book characters as has often been done with movies set in the 1950s. I think baby boomers are waiting for a movie that shows the movement for what it truly was—a cultural revolution that swept the entire world and proved to be about much more than rock and roll.