. I've seen Elvis impersonators before -thin men and fat men, men in white jumpsuits or black leather jackets, and I’ve disliked them all. But Austin Butler’s performance as Elvis in Baz Luhrmann’s 2022 film version of the king is nothing short of electrifying.
The two-hour and thirty-nine-minute
movie, which covers every facet of Elvis’ life and career from his birth in
Tupelo, Mississippi to his death in Memphis, is narrated by Colonel Tom Parker
(played by Tom Hanks), Elvis’ manager who tries to convince us that he “is not
the villain in his story,” when, in fact, he is.
But before Colonel Parker, there was
Elvis standing on a stage in one of his earliest performances. When the girls
begin to scream, Elvis turns to his guitarist, Scotty Moore, and asks “Why are
they yelling?” “The wiggle,” Moore answers, and, at that moment, ELVIS was born. And in a scene that is nothing less than genius, we see how and where that wiggle originated.
During most of the movie (to which
I took my thirteen-year-old granddaughter Chloe, who loved it. Indeed, when I
turned to whisper something to her, she couldn’t take her eyes off the screen),
I found it difficult to remember that it was Austin Butler on the screen and
not Elvis himself.
Unlike the Beatles, Elvis never
made political statements. But when Robert Kennedy was assassinated during
rehearsals for the 1968 Comeback Special and, with the memory of the assassination
of Martin Luther King Jr., two months earlier, still fresh in his mind, Elvis
sang “If I Can Dream” with a passion and purpose that only Butler could match.
Throughout the movie, Parker tries to lay the blame for Elvis’ death on anything and anyone except Parker himself - Elvis’ heart, his drug use, and even the love Elvis felt coming from his audience, one that could not sustain him when he wasn’t on stage.
But, if this movie begins with the
circus-clown-like antics of Parker, it ends with the real Elvis on stage singing
“Unchained Melody” in concert in June of 1977, just weeks before his death. While
listening and watching Elvis sing this song, I realized that Elvis’ greatest love was his love for music.