elvis it’s not a particularly funny movie. But it made me laugh out loud just once, which is the best thing I can say about Baz Lurhmann’s exhaustingly loud, terribly boring new film.
At the beginning of the film, Colonel Tom Parker (a grotesque Tom Hanks) works with country singer Hank Snow and books him for touring musical revues. We know he’s a money-hungry hustler – he tells the film from the perspective of many years later, having gambled away all of the now-dead Elvis Presley’s money. But for now, he’s enjoying working with the popular Hank.
But then he hears someone on the radio who everyone freaks out about. Who is this guy playing and belting out this wild rock ‘n’ roll, uh, music? Colonel Tom can tell just by listening to this one song that this guy is definitely going to be the star of the show, even if he’s just the back of the cast.
And best of all, this guy turns out to be white.
Of course he’s white, you say! After all, this is a Baz Luhrmann film. It means literally elvisbecause it’s about Elvis. (By the way, the guy everyone was so hyped about? That was Elvis.) But the singer Colonel Tom sure listens to Sounds like a black man for him. White guys don’t yell and yell like that! Their guitar licks aren’t that loud—hell, they’re hardly licks. Best case scenario, Hank Snow would be invited to a hootenanny, not the kind of raunchy club this guy has to record from on the radio.
So when Hank’s son Jimmie (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who jammed on the song, tells Colonel Tom that this singer is white, he absolutely loses his shit.
“He’s…white?” says Colonel Tom as the film approaches his pale, creepy pitcher. “He’s…white?!” He practically yells. His blood pressure must be off the charts. His heart begs him to calm down. “He is white???? He is white????!!!!”
Colonel Tom is so excited that Elvis Presley is a white man – aka someone he could well sign a contract with and make money off of. After all, it’s 1955 and the city is Memphis, Tennessee. Colonel Tom had no intention of working without a black man.
I laughed out loud because here was Tom Hanks in the least flattering role of his life, howling about Elvis Presley’s skin color in a garish Eastern European accent. But the people sitting with me in the theater seemed stunned by this absurd reaction. Most of them were older than me, I could tell; They literally applauded every time Elvis (Austin Butler) appeared on screen. You probably grew up with the myth that Elvis was the whitest black man on either side of the Mason-Dixon line.
Elvis’ music was too raw, his guitars too loud, his screams too loud – all things that connected him to black artists, not his white peers. Some stations were reportedly reluctant to play his early records for fear of attracting attention from conservative white listeners. You know the drill: Black people sound like This; white people sound like This.
elvis makes it clear that Elvis definitely had black musical influences. He grew up around black spirituals and electric guitar queen Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who makes a brief appearance in the film (played by artist Yola). He was best friends with BB King, who takes him to a little black club show where Little Richard sings “Tutti Frutti”. Elvis correctly says that Little Richard’s lively performance and singing reign supreme; BB (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) correctly says that Elvis could cover this song and actually make some money off it.
He laughs about it, but Elvis definitely made money from black artists’ songs. For example, “Hound Dog” was originally recorded by black blues artist Big Mama Thornton. Arthur Crudup’s That’s All Right Mama is better known than Elvis Presley’s That’s All Right. And BB knew what he was talking about with this Little Richard song: while Elvis luckily didn’t cover “Tutti Frutti,” Pat Boone’s version did far better on the charts than Richard’s.
At the same time, Luhrmann’s hagiographic account exaggerates Elvis’s “blackness”—that is, the perception that he was a signal of non-white culture in a segregated society.
Although Elvis grew up poor in a predominantly black neighborhood surrounded by blacks, his whiteness was obvious and unmistakable. He was as much a country lover as he was a rock and roller. He played their songs and hung out with them on Beale Street, but Elvis did not tour with him, give him money back, or credit him with material influences on a regular basis. There is a big difference between listening to black music and listening to black musicians.
“He played their songs and hung out with them on Beale Street, but Elvis did not tour with him, give him money back, or credit him with material influences on a regular basis.”
As odd as it may seem to put Elvis Presley and serious country artist Hank Snow on the same bill, Elvis’ racial ancestry wasn’t as big a deal as his horny post-war horniness. He swayed his hips, protruded his pelvis, and teased and molested women—all dangerous behaviors, according to pop culture’s puritanical gatekeepers of the mid-’50s. His openly displayed sexuality was Elvis’ most threatening weapon.
and elvis goes to great lengths to show how uncomfortably sexy Elvis was when he was babysitting bead-clasping white men. There’s a part where he might as well cum on stage that made me want to leave my body. Women practically hand him their bras. Elvis the Pelvis, indeed!
The problem of Elvis’ “black-sounding” voice could be solved by having Colonel Tom yelling to everyone within earshot that Elvis is actually white. But there wasn’t much even the Colonel could do about Elvis’ damn hips.
Perhaps Colonel Tom should have been upset: “He’s… hot? He is hot???? He is hot????!!!!”