Sunday, May 26, 2013


The history of popular culture is littered with examples of individuals who couldnt handle fame & celebrity, who were capital-D-Destroyed by fame, who were swallowed up by drug use, who were
[ add-your-own-melodramatic-blurb-here ], but I dont think there is any as fascinating, electrifying and movingly tragic as Elvis Presley.

THIS IS ELVIS is a superficial, "Elvis-for-Dummies"-like recap of Elvis Presley's life and career. It's an extraordinarily inept documentary, from the decision of the filmmakers to include highly expendable re-enactments (with actors playing Elvis) of some not very important moments in Elvis' life (e.g. Elvis driving up his driveway and going into his house and saying "Yes" to a sandwich offered by another actor presumably playing his maid) to the decision of the filmmakers to have Elvis (actually, an unconvincing voice impersonator) narrate and comment on the events we are shown of Elvis' life via footage of the real Elvis (but the documentary starts with Elvis' death, so the film is being narrated by a dead man? Maybe Sam Mendes watched THIS IS ELVIS before directing AMERICAN BEAUTY and stole that idea) to the filmmakers repeated use of real Elvis footage out of its proper context (as when Elvis is about to do his 1968 TV special, and that fake dead Elvis narration is telling us how excited he is to be in rehearsals for the 1968 TV special but the filmmakers are showing rehearsal footage from THATS THE WAY IT IS, two years later! then, the filmmakers illustrate Elvis' return-to-live-concert-performing 1969 Vegas shows with concert footage also taken from THATS THE WAY IT IS and even footage from ELVIS ON TOUR from 1972!).

But, like the title says, There is Elvis, Here is Elvis, That is Elvis, at the center of the film, the entire arc of his career, presented via footage (taken from TV, theatrical movies, home movies) of the real Elvis. THIS IS ELVIS offers no depth or insight into Elvis but you cant help but be moved when you follow that 1950s young innocently electrifying Elvis to the 1977 fat-man-squeezed-into-a-garish-Vegas-jumpsuit melting away as he sings the anthem of all soon-to-be-dead people, "My Way".

At the time of this film's original release in 1981, before the internet, before YouTube,  even before the common availability of VHS tapes, some of the footage in THIS IS ELVIS was simply incredible to behold: hilarious footage of 1974 Elvis, wearing very Elvis-ey sunglasses and a cool, albeit elaborately designed, karate gi, practicing karate at a karate school (hilarious because Elvis is practicing karate at a karate school while wearing those Elvis-y sunglasses and a cool, albeit elaborately designed, karate gi and I think he is wearing his usual bling; when he takes the sunglasses off, he looks completely wasted); footage from the 1977 TV Special (this documentary is still the only way to see the clearest footage (however short) of this TV Special; even today, the 1977 TV Special remains officially unreleased and the footage of this TV special that you find on the internet is always blurry, poorly duplicated).  The version of THIS IS ELVIS that recently aired on the Encore cable channel had footage of Elvis arriving with entourage to one of his concerts circa ELVIS ON TOUR, and quite clearly, quite audibly expounding to his bodyguards on just how great the blowjob he received from some chick the night before was (quite great apparently and the "guys" / bodyguards are yukking it up) (I remember this scene being very audibly dubbed by a very obvious voice impersonator to soften up what Elvis says (I remember fake overdubbed Elvis saying something like "...that girl I was with last night, she could raise the dead..." and the "guys" / bodyguards still yukking it up like jack asses but this Encore version is quite clearly real Elvis saying " know that girl I was with last night, oh man, she gave great head boy...hey joe, that chick last night gave the greatest head I've had...")).

There was an extended version of THIS IS ELVIS on early VHS tapes (THIS IS ELVIS was packaged in one of those oversized plastic video boxes that most Warner Brothers films were packaged in during those early days of the video boom) featuring even more incredible footage (including footage from Elvis' first not-very-successful engagement in Las Vegas in 1956, backstage footage of Elvis jammin' with Liberace(!) and a simply incredible version of "Unchained Melody" which is an outtake the footage filmed for the 1977 TV Special...if the 1977 version of "My Way" is unavoidably maudlin and turgid (you cant help it with lyrics like those found in this song) and which is given real power by the special effect that is the incredible meting man who happens to be singing the song, this "Unchained Melody" is the exact opposite: it is a gut-wrenching plea scream from Elvis, "I need your love, I need your love...", he's still melting away, even more so, this is in tighter close-up than the footage shot for "My Way" but the guy is just bringing it, giving it everything, when he sings "Are you still Miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnee", its like...its like...well, remember Pacino's silent scream at the end of GODFATHER III? Its like that, only with a musical is the one of the most devastatingly sad things I have ever seen / heard...

this footage hints at the real tragic story of Elvis' life that the full-of-fluff THIS IS ELVIS never really wants to come close to...

the footage of a press conference with the tell-all bodyguards who wrote the tabloid expose book ELVIS: WHAT HAPPENED is real juicy stuff (its shocking how confident and convincing the bodyguards are as they talk to the reporters) but the filmmakers behind THIS IS ELVIS try to shrug the bodyguards off by having that fake dead Elvis narration basically undercut the bodyguards' credibility, but then real Elvis unintentionally undermines the filmmakers intentions to whitewash everything because the next footage is of a pasty faced fat Elvis from the 1977 TV Special but then the filmmakers behind THIS IS ELVIS try to shrug off pasty faced fat Elvis by having the voice of Elvis flunkie Joe Esposito - or maybe it's an voice-impersonator-Joe Esposito? You cant trust anything the filmmakers are giving you here...) says "...Elvis accepted his appearance, and so did his the end, Elvis' greatest gift, his incredible voice, never left him..." but then real Elvis unintentionally undermines the filmmakers intentions to whitewash everything by not only forgetting the lyrics to "Are You Lonesome Tonight" but then trying charm the audience by "improvising" the spoken bridge only Elvis' "improvisation" is some obviously scripted schtick but Elvis is so whacked out on pharmaceuticals that he struggles to remember the script and really has to improvise through his clouded mind...

The filmmakers, ever respectful, have "An American Trilogy" play over footage of Elvis' funeral and that is a pretty shameless choice by the its own obvious, tacky, exaggerated way, it works, it may make you choke up (especially the fans)...but this bit of bombast, this need to deify its subject, merely points up the shortcomings of THIS IS ELVIS...

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


As of April 26, 2013, I have seen all 31 feature films starring Elvis Presley. I watched Speedway (1968) a few weeks ago and finished with Charro! (1969). I had tried watching Charro! before, but only got as far as the capture scene toward the beginning of the movie.

Speedway has some of the predictable hallmarks of an Elvis movie, including the presence of cute children to whom Elvis sings. He's a race car driver (again) and in need of money to save himself and his career (again). There's a cute production number reminiscent of non-Elvis musicals with the song "He's Your Uncle, Not Your Dad". The soundtrack also features "Let Yourself Go," which is one of my favorite songs in the "Nothingville" production number in the '68 comeback. Unfortunately, the version in this movie wasn't as sexy as the one in the comeback. It was nice to see Elvis with a co-star who could sing - Nancy Sinatra - but I'm sorry to say that Nancy was no Ann-Margret. As my mom said, Nancy's success is all due to her last name. Sorry, Nancy.

Charro! had the fewest songs of all of Elvis's movies, with just a title track. It's another western in which Elvis is a troubled bad guy-turned-good guy. Elvis sported a scruffy mustache and beard, so he almost didn't look like himself. Those blue eyes showed through, though! There's nothing really remarkable about this film. Elvis doesn't even really have a love interest in this movie. He had had a relationship with a local saloon owner, but nothing really happens with that during the film. He basically just needs to prove himself to the town by saving them from a gang of reckless, thieving cowboys that he used to roam the desert with. There's some gun-slinging, saloon fighting and jail time at the sheriff's (though Elvis is the jailer this time). It's a typical western with one good-looking guy they made more rough with facial hair and a bunch of average guys.

What else can I say? When you see Elvis's films, especially the later ones, you see how he was used as a money-making tool for the studios and Colonel Parker. A lot of the dialogue is weak and the plots don't have much substance. Of these last two films, Speedway was more entertaining because at least there were a few songs. I can understand what Elvis meant when he said that the movies showed what Hollywood thought of him and how they made fun of him. In a lot of the movies you see a caricature of Elvis. The same fights scenes over and over again, the pop-y tunes perfect for hip swiveling. (Question: how many of Elvis's "moves" were his natural reaction to the music and how many were choreographed?) For someone whose livelihood revolved making these movies for most of a decade, I can understand the frustration.

So could Elvis have been a serious actor? It was one of his stated goals, but was it really possible? Maybe if he hadn't gone into the army. Arguably, his best acting came out in Jailhouse Rock and King Creole. Both of these films' stories revolved around the protagonist and allowed Elvis to develop his character. Both had quality soundtracks that worked with the rest of the film (and Jailhouse Rock had that great production number). If Elvis had had the opportunity to make more films like those, then perhaps he might have been able to transition from musicals to straight films. Maybe. His service in the army came at such a crucial juncture in his life and his career that it's easy to imagine how different his life might have been if he had kept making records and movies from 1958-1960. From 1956 to 1958 there was positive, moving energy in his music and in his movies. The army cut this energy off long enough that he couldn't just pick up where he left off when he came home in 1960. (This is not to say that he didn't produce good work in the '60s; I argue that he was at his best, vocally, between 1960 and 1963 when his voice had matured and he was able to sing some great ballads as well as gospel and pop/movie soundtrack tunes.) The energy that had propelled him forward in the '50s was mostly static until he was re-energized for the '68 comeback. He was someone who needed to be challenged in order to be satisfied, and the acting part of his career certainly didn't challenge him in the '60s.

Aside from my sympathies with Elvis for his artistic frustrations, what do I think of his 31 movies? While many of them are forgettable, there are some fun ones that I have watched many times and will continue to watch from time to time. I love watching him sing "Moonlight Swim" in that sky blue convertible in Blue Hawaii and watching him marry Maile with "Hawaiian Wedding Song" at the end. I love the "Jailhouse Rock" production number and when Vince sings "Young and Beautiful" to Peggy at the end of Jailhouse Rock after his voice has recovered. I have watched him sing "Return to Sender" in Girls! Girls! Girls! so many times that I can duplicate almost all of his moves from memory. These are fun films. They may not be deeply meaningful, or be Oscar-worthy, but they're entertaining. His mesmerizing charisma came through in some of the earlier films, which makes you want to watch them. His music and charisma are the redeeming qualities to many of the films, which suggests to me that his film career wasn't a complete failure.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


In true method writer style (you have heard of method actors? well, I am a method writer), I was scouring the internet researching a witticism I wanted to make in a post which would answer the following question: 

Why exactly did the Encore cable channel pick May to do an Elvis Month and show Elvis movies all May long?

Its not Elvis' birthday month, its not Elvis' death day, so, what then? There was those string of crazy shows at Lake Tahoe in May 1976 (one was immortalized on bootleg with the title, wait for it,  A CRAZY SHOW AT LAKE TAHOE. I wish that CD had a better cover - I would have  used it for this post). I know of things like that concert on May 29, 1977 when Elvis was so out of his mind, he left the stage altogether in the middle of the show. This was immortalized on bootleg with the title, wait for it, SEND ME THE LIGHT...I NEED IT BAD.  I wish that CD had a better cover - I would have  used it for this post).

These are not things the Encore folks would even know about much less want to anniversarize (is that a word?). 

Frankly, I was stumped and started looking on the internet -- there HAD to be an answer, right? I mean, we dont live in a random universe, do we?

Well, a few clicks on the internet made me realize that I am getting old and forgetting all I have learned about Elvis in all my years of Elvis obsession.

Thanks to the Elvis History Blog (, I am reminded that there are many reasons to schedule an Elvis Month of Elvis Movies in the month of May, many anniversaries to celebrate. 

Feel free to raise a glass of wine and toast for any of the following reasons:

Elvis in May: A list of important events that occurred in May during the life and career of Elvis Presley

May 5, 1956 —Elvis's first RCA album, titled simply “Elvis Presley,” reached #1 on Billboard's album chart.
May 2, 1960 — Principal photography onG.I. Blues, Elvis’s fifth movie, began at Paramount’s Hollywood studios.
May 23, 1962 — Elvis’s ninth movie,Follow That Dream, opened in theaters nationwide.
May 26, 1963 —Elvis recorded "Devil in Disguise" at RCA’s Studio B in Nashville.
May 29, 1963 — Priscilla Beaulieu graduated from Immaculate Conception High School in Memphis.
May 1, 1967 —Elvis and Priscilla were married at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas.

Elvis in May: Birthdays of Prominent People in Elvis’s World
May 12 — Millie Perkins, who costarred with Elvis in 1961’s Wild in the Country, was born in 1938.
May 13 — Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips, who is credited with being the first DJ to play an Elvis record on the radio, was born in 1926.
May 16 — Two of Elvis's movie costars were born on the same day in 1937: Yvonne Craig (It Happened At the World’s Fair and Kissin’ Cousins) and Jocelyn Lane (Tickle Me).
May 18 — Joan Blackman, Elvis’s costar in Blue Hawaii and Kid Galahad,was born in 1938.
May 23 — Linda Thompson, who was Elvis’s girlfriend for four and a half years starting in 1972, was born in 1950.
May 24 — Priscilla Presley was born in 1945.
May 27 — Fred Wise, composer of over 30 songs, including “Wooden Heart,” for Elvis, was born in 1915.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


'member how a lil while ago I wuzz overloading mah mouth wit' mah tail and actin' hotter'n a billy goat in a pepper patch about how films tend to use Elvis impersonators solely for quick, obvious laughs? Well, shut mah mouth cuz it seems even a blind hog finds an acorn ever' now'n agin. And this acorn sounds gooder'n grits.

(I don't know why I'm speaking this way. * clears throat *)

Anyway, yes, I recently became aware of EL ULTIMO ELVIS (US title: THE LAST ELVIS), a film (from Argentina, no less) that may be the answer to my prayers: a film that takes Elvis impersonators seriously and paints a nuanced, complex portrait of an actual character who happens to be an Elvis impersonator.  

Here's the plot summary:

"...tells of a divorced singer (played by real life Elvis impersonator (!) John McInerney) who lives as if he were the reincarnation of The King. Forced to care for his daughter (named Lisa Marie, of course), a bond develops, but the dream of being Elvis remains all too powerful in this tale of obsession, delusion and brilliant musical performance."

See what I mean? It doesn't sound like there will be (m)any laughs here. In fact, my initial thought was that the film will not end happily. The reviews I have read suggest that, while this might not be as bleak as I may have first thought, it certainly isn't a piece of whimsy either. 

The film is the directorial debut of Armando Bo, who co-wrote BIUTIFUL (with that film's director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu who retains an Associate Producer credit on this flick) and that film wasn't exactly known as a laugh fest. 

From an interview with Bo that I found on the internet:

""El Ultimo Elvis" is a movie that immerses the audience in the head of a character that believes he is a reincarnation of Elvis Presley. The movie is a metaphor about lack of personality, about denial, about fanaticism. These are topics that I’m very much interested in, and which I see everywhere, more and more in young people. With the expansion of marketing these idols, icons were created, and they are sold to us as if they were perfect beings, models to be followed, but who actually are ordinary people: imperfect, with insecurities like everybody. In this case, the main character, Carlos or Elvis, has a gift, which is to sing unbelievably well, but since he doesn’t have his own personality chooses to imitate someone else. I think that in some way, we are all somebody’s doubles. What’s interesting is that this man sings just like Elvis, and this is why the line between imitating and being dilutes a little."

Pretentious much? Still, this is exactly the kind of film about an Elvis impersonator that I envisioned many years ago when I entertained the idea of writing a screenplay.

The reviews iI have read point out that the performance of John McInerney is simply fantastic.  Needless to say, EL ULTIMO ELVIS just went to the top of my must-see-asap list.  

The flick played the festival circuit last year but I don't recall any theatrical release (certainly not in New England).  I heard EL ULTIMO ELVIS may be making the rounds on cable now although I haven't yet seen any scheduled viewing times yet. 

I am keeping an eye out. 

Here are some reviews which should help to get this onto your own must-see list: