Blog Post

Should you see the new movie ‘Elvis?’

I remember where I was when I heard Elvis Presley had died, which puts me into that dwindling group of people who recall life when a living, breathing King walked among us. I was only 12 years old, but I remember.

I remember because my mother cried. I remember we were visiting Grandmother Caldwell and we turned on her console television to watch the news. I remember because the adults in my world walked around in varying states of disbelief.

I remember but I didn’t really understand, not until the day Princess Diana died and I had a point of reference for how my mother may have felt when an icon of her generation left this earth much too soon. But on August 16, 1977, I was sad because my mother was sad.

She’d always wanted to see Elvis in concert and now she never would. She’d always loved his quivering voice and his big heart, even as he abused both in his failed bid to understand his unparalleled fame and where he fit in this universe, probably never even realizing he was no longer of this universe. Or perhaps he did realize, and it was the isolation of being the only one of his kind that killed him. It’s ironic, of course, because we now live in a world filled with Elvises.

At 12, I wouldn’t have said I was an Elvis “fan.” But like most people my age, my life was infused with him. His voice coming from the radio, an impossible mixture of tender and wanton, confiding and beguiling. His hips swiveling on Sunday afternoons when the old movies played on TV. His dulcet tones and rocking tunes coming from the console stereo at Christmas – to this day, it’s not officially Christmas for me until I’ve listened to my mother’s favorite album featuring “Blue Christmas” and “Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me.”

At age 7, I received a record player in a small folding case for Christmas, along with my very first vinyl album, the soundtrack to Elvis’ “Stay Away Joe” movie. I still remember the words to the title song, which was not one of his better-known efforts but to a seven-year-old with her first record, it rocked. It rocked hard.

Now, 45 years after Elvis’ death, the world is realizing there are millions of people who have grown up in a world where Elvis was a wedding officiant, a caricature, a beach towel or a keyring. Only a handful of people ever really knew Elvis, but at least those of us with memories of him when he was living have an understanding of the musical evolution that made him a legend.

Until director Baz Luhrmann decided it was time for a new generation to “meet” the legend and created the film “Elvis,” which debuted last night.

I wanted to see it, both because of the connection to my late mother and because I loved Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge.” OK, and maybe, from watching the trailers, I’d developed a bit of an old-lady crush on Austin Butler, the young actor who portrays Elvis in the movie.

I went on opening night with two girlfriends and I thought I’d give you a very short review: Go see it. No matter your age or your memories of Elvis, go see it. It’s a film of passion and heartache and tragedy and triumph and all those words that come together to make a movie great. And Austin Butler was amazing. A few people had commented from seeing the trailer that he didn’t look like Elvis. Trust me, after two minutes of screen time, you’ll know – Austin Butler owns Elvis. He sounds like Elvis. He looks like Elvis. He is Elvis.

His performance was made that much more difficult by the fact that you can find an Elvis on most any streetcorner in Vegas or Hollywood, or even Nashville or Memphis. Butler was given the task not only of embodying a man who became the biggest legend in rock history but of distancing himself from the caricature that Elvis has become.

This movie explains Elvis, as much as he can be explained, to a new generation. See it on the big screen. It’s worth it.

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