Dir: Baz Lurhmann
Starring: Tom Hanks; Austin Butler; Olivia DeJonge
Written By: Baz Lurhmann; Sam Bromell; Craig Pearce
Craig Pearce is a talented writer who usually writes most of Baz’s movies for him. Craig did The Great Gatsby, Romeo & Juliet, and Moulin Rouge!. So now it seems these guys decided to take on Elvis.
I understand this is not a biopic, and creative liberties were taken to make the film entertaining and separate it from being a documentary. Let me say it was a very interesting choice to make Col Tom Parker the bad guy here. In real life, he mostly hid in the shadows, and he made a lot of people millionaires with his simple contracts and handshake deals. Legendary Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub was one of them. Col Tom Parker made a handshake deal with Jerry to sell merchandise at Elvis’s Madison Square Garden show – Jerry sat down expecting a complicated contract / negotiations session. Col Tom Parker simply told him to split the money down the middle, and Jerry can simply just keep his cash that night. Jerry said that night he became a millionaire.
So the Colonel wasn’t evil, he just did things simply, in cash, without lawyers and fancy procedures involved. He made Elvis a lot of money, and Elvis spent a lot of money giving gifts away almost every day. He was known for his generosity. He bought friends houses and cars frequently, and wrote checks without fanfare to people near him who needed it. The Colonel’s finances came into question only after Elvis’s death because Priscilla believed Elvis was wronged by the Colonel after all these years. When her high power lawyers came into the picture, none of the Colonel’s deals or finances were in place and documented legally, as that was not his nature. So naturally the whole thing became a mess. The one thing the Colonel did have locked up was partial rights to Elvis name and likeness and the Estate had to wait for him to pass on before retaining those rights.
Elvis recorded the song Trouble just two months before entering the Army – so he never performed that song on tour like the movie said – and he definitely did not have an orchestra backing him up in 1958. So a few liberties taken, but no harm and no foul, it works and it is entertaining.
BB King was no great friend of Elvis either. BB said once he saw Elvis rehearsing at Sun Studios and they exchanged pleasantries, but that was about it. BB said he was a very nice young man but had no idea he would change he world.
Priscilla rarely went to Hollywood to be with Elvis, he kept her at Graceland, so that was for the movie as well.
The big reason Elvis stayed with the Colonel was that Colonel Tom Parker could not care less about music. He stayed out of rehearsals, away from concerts, never in a recording studio. Elvis was in complete control of everything music. Arrangements, lyrics, choice of song, everything. He would never say “why is he singing this” – he didn’t care. The discussion they had about the 68 Comeback Special was that NBC wanted a Christmas show. Producer Bob Finkel thought they could do something more meaningful and off they went. It was not about the Colonel and Elvis, at all.
Elvis wanted to perform in front of a crowd again, and he chose to do some blues, and some gospel. He reformed his old bandmates, legendary Scotty Moore, and DJ Fontana, his drummer, who literally kept time on an empty guitar case. If you watch the show, there is no drum set on that circle stage at all. It was pretty bare bones, which made it all the more impressive.
Now later on in life, Elvis cancelled many shows because of poor health – but never was it a “get on that stage or else” situation. Sure they had fights like everyone else but this movie really heightened it all for entertainment. Elvis never fired the Colonel publicly on stage like that either.
Vernon was a horrible businessman, went from job to job his entire life – why Elvis made him manager I’ll never know, but I do believe his daddy ran that company very poorly, so being in a financial bind, is completely believable, and good for the movie.
Elvis played Vegas for 8 years, but only one month at a time. He would tour the USA during other times, but it wasn’t like it is now. He had time off, and went back when he wanted to, one month at a time. I don’t believe he knew what to do next with his career, since he had done everything else, and he grew very depressed with his break up from Priscilla. Be that as it may – Baz wanted conflict, and I guess the Colonel is as good a choice as any. I am not here to play fact or fiction. Here is what I will say about the film – it was entertaining and Austin Butler is perfect for this role and did an amazing job, Baz really brought out the music to make big points in the film and the 2h40m length passes by quickly, which is something I rarely say.