Elvis: Baz Luhrmann’s bizarre biopic combines the worst aspects of two terrifying Indian blockbusters


Elvis: Baz Luhrmann's bizarre biopic combines the worst aspects of two terrifying Indian blockbusters

A total assault on the senses that can shake the will of even a professional athlete (not to mention an out-of-shape journalist reeling from the aftermath of a booster shot), director Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic is so unbearable that it’s a strong argument as to why studios should always keep some writers oversight, and resembles not one, but two of the worst Indian blockbusters in recent memory. No one would have expected Luhrmann to explore some of the more shady sides of Elvis’ life – the King of Rock and Roll, for example, was never able to shake off allegations of predatory behavior towards minors – but as a fan of the filmmaker’s maximalist style, I hadn’t expected Elvis to be the unholy marriage of the hagiographic sanju and the structurally anarchic KGF films.

But first a story. To maintain the bare minimum of journalistic integrity, I’ve decided that because I want to write about the recent KGF: Chapter 2, I need to familiarize myself with KGF: Chapter 1. So I threw on a summer evening a few weeks ago not sure what to expect and completely unprepared for what to expect. Two minutes passed, and the non-skippable trailer that always plays on Prime Video, before your movie or show was over. I only half paid attention, realizing I had no choice but to wait.

But it wasn’t until another minute had passed that two quick realizations hit me, back to back. The first was that while I was waiting to watch the first KGF movie, Prime slipped me the first KGF movie for some reason. That was strange, but not that strange; Netflix often advertises directly to paying Netflix customers. But then it hit me. What I watched wasn’t a trailer for KGF: Chapter 1. I watched the movie myself.

Across flashy title cards introducing “Rocking Star Yash” and randomly assembled images of the actor posing menacingly onscreen, I discovered that the first few minutes of KGF: Chapter 1 were deliberately designed to be a breakneck montage mimicked The most accurate way to describe KGF (or at least how much of it I’ve been able to see) is like sitting through an endless version of one of those “last time…” flashbacks that play before new episodes on TV shows .

I never managed to finish the film; I checked out for the scene where our “hero”, after relentlessly stalking and harassing a poor woman, corners her in a hotel room, clad only in a bathrobe. I’ve decided to stop watching KGF because it’s an morally objectionable piece of work. But I probably would have forgiven him and moved on if his crimes had been limited to violating the language of cinema. I dodged a bullet with this film, and also with KGF 2, which I didn’t want to watch later. But life wouldn’t let me get away so easily. Had I been watching Elvis at home and not on an IMAX screen I probably would have stopped halfway through.

Loud, ridiculous, and easily the worst film of Luhrmann’s career, Elvis swears by the brand of unrelenting storytelling that can only be surpassed by the filmmaker’s objectively odd decision to portray the rock star’s life from the perspective of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker – it’s like telling the Taylor A Quick Story from Scooter Braun’s point of view — and his utter disinterest in examining the person under the prosthetic limb. As the film reveals, the reason it seems like a three-hour Shakespearean fever dream is because that’s exactly what it is — in a blind and missing moment, it’s implied the whole of Colonel Parker’s life flashed before his eyes, when he cast off this mortal shell – it is too late.

And in its quest to capture the icon’s turbulent life, it just doesn’t stop to catch its breath. Nor does it have a single emotional thread to weave through the lush tapestry of Elvis’ career. Although there is a half-hearted attempt to attribute that responsibility to his love affair with wife Priscilla. Their scenes together are punctuated by reprisal after reprisal of the song “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” which serves as a sort of leitmotif but doesn’t do the film, the characters, or itself justice.

The film is more interested in depicting Elvis as a bird trapped in a gilded cage or comparing him to a circus monkey. Luhrmann, who did a four-hour cut of this film, which appears to have been screwed up by Jesus Christ himself – thank the Lord – leans into the tragedy of Elvis’ life, dutifully hitting every note required with the might of a million muscular men. We are to sympathize with him, regret the way he was treated and leave the theatre, not in dire need of ORS, but in renewed awe of his talents.

It should never be the burden of the film address a character’s bad behavior. Ideally, the film should explain it, put it in context and move on. But as in Rajkumar Hirani’s objectively awful Sanjay Dutt biopic, Elvis chooses to actively find excuses for his protagonist’s misdeeds. Having probably understood that even the King’s most devoted fans can’t possibly explain his alleged predatory abuse pattern – his courtship of Priscilla began when she was only 14, a full decade his junior – the film ignores this completely. And it treats Elvis’ abandonment from his family and repeated infidelities with the kind of emotionless practicality one would normally save for a waffle order at a Vegas diner.

There are, of course, a few moments when Lurhmann’s signatures sing. One sequence starring BB King at Club Handy is particularly electrifying, as is another scene consisting entirely of – and I’m not exaggerating – footage of instant star Austin Butler strutting about the streets to a Doja Cat remix in the background of “Hound Dog” roars. It’s the transcendent fusion of music and imagery that Luhrmann pulls off so well. But practically everything happens in the first hour. The rest of the time you mostly wait to leave the building.

Post Credits Scene is a column where we analyze new releases each week, with a particular focus on context, crafting, and characters. Because there is always something to fix when the dust has settled.

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